Archive | National

Wishes of the Rich and Powerful

 

Study:  America is an Oligarchy–
Not a Democracy

VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

We serve the rich and powerful.  So tell us something
we don’t know.

A new study by researchers from Princeton and Northwestern Universities finds that America’s government policies reflect the wishes of the rich and of powerful interest groups, rather than the wishes of the majority of citizens.

The researchers examined close to 1,800 U.S. policy changes in the years between 1981 and 2002.  They compared those policy changes with the expressed preferences of the median American, at the 50th percentile of income; with affluent Americans, at the 90th percentile of income; and with the position of powerful interest and lobbying groups.

What emerges from the research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy.  Meanwhile, mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. 

The study found that the positions of powerful interest groups are “not substantially correlated with the preferences of average citizens,” meaning that to the extent that special interests groups have political power, they are driving our government’s decision making process away from the interests of the average American.

Our current system of a competing thicket of special interest groups all fighting for influence is not equal to a true representation of the wishes of the citizenry.  Whether or not the majority of Americans will ever tire and protest of being systematically marginalized remains an open question. 

We suspect nothing will ever happen until everyone’s cable TV gets taken away, because we just couldn’t tolerate that type of injustice.  He who has the gold, rules:  perhaps we can help serve them love and lunch, like good natured and inclusively minded Cole Escola does.

An excerpt, the full PDF of the study is here.

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Are we an oligarchy or a democracy?

This is a point the Humboldt Sentinel has been making all along. 

With its listing of polls in which Americans, as opposed to most of their leaders, favor progressive policies that have been consistently ignored, we have to wonder in which direction America is going in.

Here’s our current rundown of examples and it’s the short list:

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The Problem With Plastic

 

Garbage in the Gyre

VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Disposable plastics are a problem.

We’ve been sold on the wonder of plastic.  It’s ubiquitous  in
our lives and everpresent in our environment.

It comes in any color of the rainbow, it can be made into any shape you want, and unlike wood or glass, it doesn’t break.  The problem is, we use it in so many “disposable” products that the plastic will long outlive us.

In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments– like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles– are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located in the North Pacific Gyre off the coast of California and is the largest ocean garbage site in the world.  This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one.

Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.  46 percent of plastics float and it can drift for years before eventually concentrating in the ocean gyres.

44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.  One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.

Consider this:

Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body—93 percent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical).   Some of these compounds found in plastic have been found to alter hormones or have other potential human health effects.

Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.  50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away.  The vast majority is not recycled or recovered.

What more do we need to see?

Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four timesWe currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.

The average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.  Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate and it takes 500-1,000 years for most plastic to degrade.

Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year.  Annually, approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide– with more than one million bags used every minute.

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Via Ecowatch, 5 Gyres, Chris Jordan’s Midway, and Vimeo

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NASA Funded Study Predicts Collapse of Human Civilization

 

 

The Beginning is Near

VIRAL VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Human evolution isn’t looking pretty.

After running the numbers on a set of four equations representing human society, a team of NASA-funded mathematicians has come to the grim conclusion that the utter collapse of human civilization will be “difficult to avoid.”

The exact scenario may vary, but in the coming decades humanity is essentially doomed to some variant of “Elites” consuming too much, “resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”

That is, unless civilization is ready for one of two major policy changes:  inequality must be “greatly reduced” or population growth must be “strictly controlled.”

The apocalyptic pronouncements, set to be published in an upcoming edition of Ecological Economics, come courtesy of a U.S. team led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei and funded in part by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The otherwise obscure report was first made public in a recent column in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper in which environment writer Nafeez Ahmed warned that it constituted a “highly credible wake-up call” and declared that its menu of suggested policy changes were “required immediately.”

In the days since, environmentalists, socialists, hard-line U.S. Republicans and even survivalists have taken up the banner of the 32-page study.

Derrick O’Keefe, the Vancouver-based former editor of Rabble wrote “this NASA-funded study makes the case that the future is socialism or extinction.”  At about the same time, an anonymous commenter on M4Carbine.net declared “this is why I keep buying ammo…”

 

…An excerpt, you can read the full article in the National Post here

* * * * * * * * *

Time to stockpile the goods. 
Mom, please send groceries, guns and ammo. 
 
And more money for college.
Toilet paper, too.

 

 

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Feeding The World

 

The Food Crisis Paradox

Award-Winning Film

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

 

“People are not hungry because they are ignorant… The issues are more fundamental. 

The fish are there.  The people know how to fish.  Yet, there is barbed wire around the pond– literally and figuratively.”

 

Why buy local?  This is why:  Food security.

It’s baffling that in some parts of the world, there’s an oversupply of food, while elsewhere people are suffering from malnourishment.

This infotainment film, How to Feed the World, was directed by Denis van Waerebeke for kids age 9 to 14 in an effort to explain resource disparity, malnutrition and the food crisis in an eye-catching and accessible way.

Waerebeke lays it all out, showing that it all boils down to food dependency.  He describes how a system of imports and exports complicate a process that could be simplified and sustainable if it focused on the local paradigm instead.

Of course it’s a little more convoluted than that, but the video explains it in a way that manages to be both digestible and informative.

The moral of the story? 

Work hard, think and buy and local, and thank your lucky stars if you’re fortunate enough to feed your family today.

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‘We Will Live Again’

 

Never Say Die: Cryonics and Immortality

Award-Winning VIDEO

Brooklyn Underground Films

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

 

The future is here– but the cure hasn’t arrived yet.

Cryonics is an effort to save lives by using temperatures so cold that a person beyond help by today’s medicine might be preserved for decades or centuries until a future medical technology can restore that person to full health.

Cryonics sounds like science fiction, but it is based on modern science.  Presently, it’s an experiment in the most literal sense of the word.

We Will Live Again takes an unusual and extraordinary peek into the operations of the Cryonics Institute.

We follow Ben Best and Andy Zawacki as they maintain the 99 deceased human bodies stored at below-freezing temperatures in cryopreservation, awaiting the day when theoretically they will be revived to life and hoisted into the immortality of a coming age.

Meanwhile, cryonics movement founder Robert Ettinger, long-retired from overseeing operations at the Institute, still lives nearby, self-publishing books on cryonics and awaiting the end of this life– and eagerly anticipating the next.

What does the future hold for you?

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A Gold Star Mother’s Story

 

‘Five Years Without Justin’

Reuters Pictures Washington

Award-Winning Film

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

America’s military commitment in Afghanistan has been
long by any count.

Ten years of bloody war fathered by an angry country seeking revenge after it was blindsided in deadly attacks on September 11, 2001.  Innocent souls vanished forever inside the flames that day in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Since then thousands of combat GI’s from willing countries have answered their nation’s call to hunt down those thought responsible for that day hiding along the dark footpaths of a dangerous countryside.

Every time a soldier dies in combat, he, or she, is quickly flown home to be buried by a grieving family.

A mother’s shattered heart and fresh tears point the way to their own child’s gravesite. They soon discover they’ve passed the initiation into a painful sorority bound forever by the death of a child killed during war: a reluctant sisterhood living with sad stories and broken memories called “Gold Star Mothers.”

Paula Davis lost her 19 year-old son, Justin, while he fought in Afghanistan in 2006. He had vowed to his mom he’d never forget his childhood memories of September 11th and enlisted in the U.S. Army one week after graduating from high school.

She now spends her weekends numbly staring at “Justin R. Davis” etched on a simple white stone inside Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 60.

On the fifth anniversary of his death in 2011 she celebrated his short life with friends and family, just days after President Obama announced a reduction of U.S. troops in that war. 

The film above tells the story and sacrifice better than we ever could.  Please take a moment to remember those faithful to our service, to those who will not return, and for our Gold Star Mothers.

 

~Via Reuters, Jason Reed, Larry Downing, and Vimeo

* * * * * * * * *

We are truly humbled.  We’ve been to Arlington and it struck deep to our soul, a moving experience.  Yes, we teared up.  Everyone does.  You can’t help but not to.  It’s a place of solemn brevity and magnitude of the highest order.

For all those who serve and with the greatest respect, and for the Justin Davis family; and for Humboldt local USMC Trevor Carlin in VA, AF pilots Matthew Fritz and Chris Stricklin, and Commanding Gen. John Michel.

Thank you.

 

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Dismantling Your LandLine Phone

 

AT&T and Verizon Wants Everyone to Pay By the Minute

VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Is the end of the landline phone looming? 

Analysts expect landlines going the way of the 8-track tape soon, costing consumers more money by requiring them to go through wireless carriers as the only alternative available.  The telecom giants are giddy at the prospects.

Landline phones, if you remember, are the reliable analog standard that allows the use of simple unpowered phone devices on the wire, with the phone company supplying ring and talk voltage.

Telecom giants AT&T and Verizon Communications are lobbying states, one by one, to hang up the plain, old landline telephone system– the copper-wired phone system whose reliability and reach made the U.S. a communications powerhouse for more than 100 years.

Despite its analog limitations, landline switches have enforced the use of hard-coded local exchanges and equipment that will faithfully complete local calls, even if its network connections are down.  IP and cell phones, however, are different:  In a disaster that isolates the community from outside or partitions the country’s connectivity, they won’t work should the single local cell tower be isolated from its parent network.

Last week, Michigan joined more than 30 other states that have passed or are considering laws that restrict state-government oversight and eliminate “carrier of last resort” mandates, effectively ending the universal-service guarantee that gives every U.S. resident access to local-exchange hard wireline telephone service, or landlines.

The move is lauded by AT&T Chairman Tom Wheeler who claims that significant resources are spent to maintain the ‘legacy’ landline service– although some 100 million Americans still rely upon it.

In Mantoloking, N.J., Verizon wants to replace the landline system, which Hurricane Sandy wiped out, with its wireless Voice Link.  That would make it the first entire town to go landline-less, a move that isn’t sitting well with all residents.

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Verizon, AT&T and others would love to have you pay through the nose for phone-by-the-minute, the way so many of us do now for cell service. 

Lobbyists are working overtime with $$$ signs in their eyes and ears: 100 million
customers joining telecom’s new gravy train is nothing to sneeze at.

And don’t forget that new smartphone you’ll be buying every year just to keep up
with the planned obsolescence.

 

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Rand Paul Builds Mainstream 50-State Network Coalition

 

Rebranding the GOP’s 2016 Presidential Election: Rebuilding An Empire?

FREEDOM FEST VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Rand Paul has become the first Republican to assemble a network in all 50 states as a precursor to a 2016 presidential run, the latest sign that he is looking to build a more mainstream coalition than the largely ad hoc one that backed his father’s unsuccessful campaigns.

Paul’s move, which comes nearly two years before the 2016 primaries, also signals an effort to win the confidence of skeptical members of the Republican establishment.

Many of those skeptics doubt that his appeal will translate beyond the libertarian base that was attracted to Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman.

Rand Paul’s nationwide organization, which counts more than 200 people, includes new backers who have previously funded more traditional Republicans, along with longtime libertarian activists.

Paul, of Kentucky, has also been courting Wall Street titans and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who donated to the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, attending elite conclaves in Utah and elsewhere along with other GOP hopefuls…

…Cathy Bailey and Nate Morris, two prominent GOP fundraisers from Kentucky, were instrumental in bringing the group together.

Morris, previously a fundraiser for George W. Bush, has served as Paul’s guide as the freshman senator navigated steakhouse dinners and tony receptions
with Wall Street and Silicon Valley leaders.

“The bones for the network are there,” Morris said.  “We’ll take that and bring in new talent, people who could be like Spencer Zwick was for Mitt Romney’s on finance.  Among donors, there’s a fever out there, people are looking to rebrand the party and they haven’t yet been tapped.”

Last year, Rand Paul Victory raised $4.4 million, with nearly half of its fourth-quarter donations coming from high-dollar donors, typically those who give more than $500 and often contribute the legal limit.

Paul’s pitch at these gatherings combined his antagonism toward the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs with a discussion of issues such as drug-sentencing reform and what he calls “crunchy conservatism,” a focus on environment and civil liberties.

Nevertheless, many Republicans question whether Paul can build a campaign that could win a national election.

“I think he’s dangerously irresponsible,” said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who is mulling his own presidential bid and has been critical of the GOP’s tea party wing, including Cruz.

“I can’t believe responsible Republicans will support this guy, who’s a modern version of Charles Lindbergh,” King said…

…A small excerpt, you can read the full Washington Post article here.

* * * * * * * * *

Gone are the days of the Reagan Republicans and Eisenhower Democrats.  Party coalition has divided into the partisan bickering of big money politics, their backers, and their lobbyists.  Between the divide, nothing gets done for the good of the nation and its people shoved aside.

With polls showing record levels of low approval and appropriate disdain for both the Republican and Democratic parties, the empire is crumbling amidst
the stranglehold and fray of the two.

 

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You Call This Reform?

 

NSA Would Gain Access to All Cellphone Records Under Dual Plans

VIRAL VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Big Brother’s access surveilling your private activities
just got worse under the guise of ‘reform’.

The White House and the House Intelligence Committee leaked dueling proposals last night that are supposedly aimed at ending the mass collection of all Americans’ phone records.  

But the devil is in the details, and when it comes to the National Security Agency’s unique ability to twist and distort the English language, the devil wraps his horns around every word.

The National Security Agency would lose its authority to collect and hold years’ worth of telephone calling records– but gain access to all cellphone information it currently lacks under dual Obama administration and House proposals aimed at quieting controversy over the spy agency’s data archive.

The House proposal, to be unveiled this morning by Reps Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, is the more worrying of the two.

Rogers has been the NSA’s most ardent defender in Congress and has a long history of distorting the truth and practicing outright fabrication, whether in touting his committee’s alleged “oversight” or by way of his attempts to impugn the motives of the once again vindicated whistleblower who started this whole reform debate, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

As a general rule, whenever Mike Rogers (not to be confused with incoming NSA director Michael Rogers) claims a bill does something particular– like, say, protect your privacy– it’s actually a fairly safe assumption that the opposite will end up true.  His new bill seems to have the goal of trading government bulk collection for even more NSA power to search Americans’ data while it sits in the hands of the phone companies.

The new House proposal would end the NSA’s practice of holding the massive amounts of calling data.  It is slyly called the “End Bulk Collection Act.”

Administration officials hope to assuage public concerns that an intelligence agency had access to information that could reveal deeply private information. Though NSA does not obtain the contents of communications under the program, the ability to map a person’s communications with times, dates and numbers called can provide a window into someone’s activities and connections.

Both Administration and House plans offer benefits for the NSA that might give privacy advocates pause.

Currently, the NSA collects most landline calling records and stores them for five years in a database that it periodically searches using telephone numbers connected to terrorists abroad.  The new proposals would expand the universe of calling records the agency can access.  

After months of suggesting that they were collecting all the calling metadata, U.S. officials disclosed last month that a large segment of mobile phone calls were not covered by the program, and that as a result the NSA may only collect 30% of all call data in the country.

Under the new arrangement, phone companies would be required to hold and standardize their data and make all calls available on a continuously updated basis so the NSA could search it for “terrorist connections.”

The NSA would have to obtain a court order for such a search, said an official who confirmed details of the program on condition of anonymity.

* * * * * * * * *

You call this reform?   This is government bulk collection at its worst, and these new ‘reforms’ aren’t nearly good enough.  There’s a simple way to stop all forms of bulk collection and mass surveillance: write a law expressly prohibiting it.

Big Brother knows no bounds when it comes to spying on innocent Americans.  We have met the enemy– and it is us.

NSA – ZOMG from BAILOUT Pictures on Vimeo.

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Navy Illegally Spying On Millions of Americans

 

Database Shared Through National Hub

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

A parking ticket, traffic citation or involvement in a minor fender-bender are enough to get a person’s name and other personal information logged into a massive, obscure
federal database run by the U.S. military.

The Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or LinX, has already amassed 506.3 million law enforcement records– ranging from criminal histories and arrest reports to field information cards filled out by cops on the beat even when no crime has occurred.

LinX is a national information-sharing hub for federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. 

Run by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, LinX raises concerns among some military law experts by putting such detailed data about ordinary citizens in the hands of military officials and crossing the line generally prohibiting the armed forces from conducting civilian law enforcement operations.

Those fears are heightened by recent disclosures of the National Security Agency spying on Americans, and the CIA allegedly spying on Congress, they say.

Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School, called LinX “domestic spying.”

Fidell reviewed the Navy’s LinX website at the request of the Washington Examiner to assess the propriety of putting such a powerful database under the control of a military police entity.

“It gives me the willies,” said Fidell, a member of the Defense Department’s Legal Policy Board and a board member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War. 

“That may be where you are starting to cross the line on mass collection of information on innocent people just because you can…”

 

An excerpt, you can read the full story in the Washington Examiner.
Via Undernews/Washington Examiner

 

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Massive Scallop Die-Off Raises Red Flags

 

Shellfish Succumbing to Rising Ocean Acidity

VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

 

If we don’t pay attention, shellfish hunting may be a thing
of the past.

A rise of carbon in the atmosphere is raising acidity in oceans and causing ‘cascading effect’ at all levels of the food chain with declines of shellfish populations being seen across the West Coast, a new report says.

An increase of acidity in the Pacific Ocean is quickly killing off one of the world’s most beloved shellfish, the scallop, according to the report by the British Columbia Shellfish Grower’s Association.

“By June of 2013, we lost almost 95 per cent of our crops,” Rob Saunders, CEO of Island Scallops in B.C. told Canada’s CTV News.

The cause of this increase in acidity, scientists say, is the exponential burning of fossil fuels for energy and its subsequent pollution.

Oceans naturally absorb carbon dioxide, a byproduct of fossil fuel emissions, which causes acidity to rise.  An overdose of carbon in the atmosphere subsequently causes too much acidity in the world’s oceans, Chris Harley, a marine ecologist from the University of British Columbia, said.

Overly acidic water is bad for shellfish, as it impairs them from developing rigid shells.  Oyster hatcheries along the West Coast are also experiencing a steep decline.

“This is a bit of a red flag,” said Harley.

And this red flag has a much bigger impact than one might imagine. 

Oysters, too, are extremely vulnerable to the acidity, preventing sea creatures from
growing skeletons and shells making them more vulnerable to bacterial infections
and predators.

Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Washington started seeing problems in 2005, with massive die offs by 2009.  Seedling oysters would sometimes disappear from tanks overnight.

“The oysters are still laying down shell – it’s just that it is dissolving from the outside faster than they can grow it.  Eventually, they lose that race and they die,” Bill Dewey, communications director for Taylor Shellfish said.

Taylor Shellfish is the nation’s largest producer with 11,000 acres in production and 500 employees.  The company is moving more of its operations to warmer waters in Hawaii to dodge the corrosive acid-ocean bullet.

“I think we will survive and figure out a way through this.  I don’t think it bodes well for other species in the ocean and fishing interests that rely totally on natural production, salmon that rely on pteropods, and so on.  It’s going to be a different game out there,” Dewey said.

“Whenever we see an impact at some level of the food chain, there is
a cascading effect at other levels of the food chain,” said Peter Ross,
an expert in ocean pollution science.

Another recent study also warned that ocean acidification is accelerating at a rate unparalleled in the life of the oceans—perhaps the fastest rate in the planet’s existence—which is degrading marine ecosystems on a mass scale.

“The current rate of change is likely to be more than 10 times faster than it has been in any of the evolutionary crises in the earth’s history,” said German marine biologist Hans Poertner upon the release of a study published in the journal Nature.

Ocean acidification has been referred to as the “evil twin” of climate change.

Poertner says that if humanity’s industrial carbon emissions continue with a “business as usual” attitude, levels of acidity in the world’s oceans will be catastrophic.

Until changes are made, it’s a matter of preparing for the worst.

“For at least a year, probably even a little bit longer, we have not been able to obtain shellfish, so we’ve been carrying the east coast ones,” said Catherine Yamamoto from Wheelhouse Seafoods in Vancouver.

 “I do worry that it’s a sign of things coming,” said Yamamoto.

 

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Re-Funding America

 

–We Ain’t Broke Yet–

 

Jim Hightower
JimHightower.com

 

As we know, the barons of Wall Street have not hesitated to raid our public treasury and haul off trillions of dollars worth of government bailouts and special tax
breaks to subsidize their “free market” ventures.

So guess who has been the major force pushing policymakers to slash federal spending and kill programs that improve opportunities for regular people?

Bingo – the barons!

Through their lobbyists, front groups, and the politicians they’ve purchased these high-finance royals have gained a stranglehold on policy, choking off the public investment that lifts up the poor and middle class.  As a result, these millionaires and billionaires are shortchanging America itself, reducing our can-do spirit to their won’t-do minginess.

Think of the progress we could be making.

The USA ought to have the TOP public education system, not one of the worst among wealthy nations.

Improve Obamacare to Medicare-for-All.  Let’s re-establish our technological supremacy, from building the green economy of the future to reaching again into outer space.

Rather than succumbing to a bleak future of low-wage, part-time, temporary, no-security jobs, let’s publicly invest in full employment, world-class skills, and technology that works for workers.

Restore democratic power with public financing of all election campaigns, enact labor law reforms so workers themselves can democratize the workplace, and encourage the development of co-ops as an alternative to corporate control of the economy.

That’s an America that is worthy of us, an America we can build.

But to do it, we must first create a new political movement that directly confronts the narcissistic nabobs who’re knocking down our people and our country.  With such a movement, we can rally the increasingly-restive workaday majority to come together in a populist effort to cut off Wall Street and Re-fund America.

America isn’t broke.  There’s plenty of money to build an economy worthy of our ideals and our can-do spirit.

 

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Jim Hightower is a Texan, columnist, and populist who believes that to move America from greed to greatness, we must fuel the power and the passion of our nation’s workaday majority.

You can listen to more of Jim Hightower’s commentaries here.

 

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The Cannabis Farmers Market

 

Medical Marijuana Farmers Selling Direct to Patients

VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

It’s not your typical everyday farmers market.

Instead of tomatoes and cabbage and cucumbers, customers purchase medical cannabis.

The NW Cannabis Market hosts a variety of vendors who sell their products wholesale and direct to anyone with a recommendation for medical marijuana.  

Located in Washington state, the market fosters a conversation between farmers and patients about the process, ingredients, and specific health effects of the product.

Giving the patient more control over their medication and price, the ‘farmer’s market’ model offers insight into consumer demands for growers’ knowledge, while applying the simple basics of supply and demand to set the cost just as any marketplace does.

Though not completely unique (similar markets exist in Washington) the unique farm-to-consumer model has enormous potential to benefit the medical marijuana community, advocates and consumers alike insist.

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Koch Brothers On Welfare Big Time

 

$weet Charity:

Corporate Welfare for Corporations Who Don’t Need It

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

The Koch Brothers likes to champion themselves as economic
crusaders against the welfare state.

But a new report shows that they took $88 million of your taxpayer dollars while demanding that governments stop wasting taxpayer dollars.

In total, $110 billion goes out to corporate welfare projects from state and local authorities. This does not even include money coming from federal sources.

Entitled “Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent,” the report from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First shows that the world’s largest companies aren’t models of self-sufficiency and unbridled capitalism. 

To the contrary, they’re propped up by billions of dollars in welfare payments from state and local governments.

Such subsidies might be a bit more defensible if they were being doled out in a way that promoted upstart entrepreneurialism.  But as the study also shows, a full “three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large corporations”—not to the small businesses and startups that politicians so often pretend to care about.

In dollar figures, that’s a whopping $110 billion going to big companies.  Fortune 500 firms alone receive more than 16,000 subsidies at a total cost of $63 billion.

Koch Brothers aside, we can also for the first time identify which companies have
received the most cumulative awards, both in dollar terms and number of awards.

In dollar terms, the biggest recipient by far is Boeing, with a total of more than $13 billion, reflecting the giant deals it has gotten in Washington and South Carolina as well as more than 130 smaller deals around the country.

The others at the top of the cumulative subsidy dollar list are:  Alcoa ($5.6 billion), Intel ($3.9 billion), General Motors ($3.5 billion) and Ford Motor ($2.5 billion).

And Dow Chemical has the highest number of awards, with 416.  Following it are Berkshire Hathaway (310), General Motors (307), Wal-Mart Stores (261), General Electric (255), Walgreen (225) and FedEx (222).

Altogether, 48 large companies have received more than 100 individual awards.

The report underscores that a lot of programs touted by politicians as “economic
development” programs actually go to corporations who don’t need the money.  

While some of these programs can provide jobs for the community, they also create a lot of hardships when these companies decide to leave town.  And they create a lot of empty buildings that the taxpayers frequently have to clean up after.

Trickle down economics is still alive and well 25 years after Ronald Reagan left office.  Unfortunately, not enough of it trickles down to the workers who have to work 12 hours a day just to make a living.

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 ~Via DailyKos/Undernews/Mark Martinez

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CIA Illegally Spies on Senate Committee

 

Big Brother Spying On Little Bro

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Big Brother knows no bounds when it comes to spying on fellow Americans.

The chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee today accused the CIA of inappropriately searching the committee’s computers as the panel investigated the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

The expanding dispute has opened a rift between the CIA and the Senate committee that oversees it and often has defended it. Already, some CIA officers could face criminal prosecution as a result of a Justice Department investigation of the incident.

The clash grew out of a long-running Intelligence Committee study of the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices under the George W. Bush administration.  As part of that inquiry, the CIA set up a special facility in Virginia where committee staff members could review millions of secret documents.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said CIA Director John Brennan told her in January that agency personnel searched the computers because of a belief that the panel might have had access to an internal review of the matter.

“The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review or how we obtained it. Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computer,” she said. “… I have grave concerns that the CIA search may have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.  I am not taking it lightly.”

Feinstein said CIA action may have violated the Constitution, various federal laws and a presidential executive order that prohibits the agency from conducting domestic surveillance.

She asked for an apology and an acknowledgment from the CIA that its search of the committee’s computers was inappropriate, but “I have received neither.”

In a statement last week, Brennan said the CIA acted appropriately.

Feinstein’s comments raise the stakes of the dispute that has surrounded the committee’s study of the CIA’s actions.  

The committee report on interrogation practices has not been made public, but people who have read it say it amounts to a blistering indictment of the CIA program that many consider to have involved torture.  Little useful intelligence was gained from the tactics, the report concludes, and it says CIA officials lied to their superiors and Congress about what was happening.

In a written response that it also still classified, the CIA disputes those conclusions.

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The CIA was riled up because the Senate Committee crafted a massive report on the failure and crimes of the CIA’s torture regime.  So they spied on them to see what they knew.

In a real democracy this would be a brazen criminal offense.

 

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Wall Street Becoming America’s Biggest Landlord

 

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Become… –Renters

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Last April, amid the region’s tightest housing supply in a decade, a Wall Street-backed company stormed into the
Seattle metro area and bought, on average, 10 homes a day.

Invitation Homes, a subsidiary of investment giant The Blackstone Group, purchased the homes from banks, foreclosure auctions or individual sellers, and turned them into rentals.  Often buying entry-level homes under $300,000, it almost always paid cash.

“Cash is king,” said Bob Papke, a RE/MAX real-estate agent.  “Your first-time buyer who’s scrambling to get their down payment together is going to get trumped by the investor.”

By year’s end, Blackstone’s Invitation Homes had hoovered up at least 1,585 single-family homes here, according to market researcher RealtyTrac.  Nationwide, Blackstone says it has spent $8 billion amassing a portfolio of 43,000 single-family homes.

Big companies such as Blackstone are a new force in the single-family home market, offering more ready cash than ordinary buyers and helping push up prices.

As homeowners from coast to coast wake up to learn they have a Wall Street fund as their neighbor, some are happy to see the houses spruced up and occupied.  Others complain it’s hard to get the landlord to address problems that surface.

Over the past two years, institutional investors such as Invitation Homes, Pretium Partners and American Homes 4 Rent have spent more than $20 billion to acquire 130,000 U.S. homes destined to become rentals, according to investment banking firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.

The buying spree has potentially far-reaching consequences.

In a market already low on inventory, big investor purchases could artificially pump up home prices, said Yale economist Robert Shiller, whose book “Irrational Exuberance” warned in 2005 of a national housing bubble.

“I don’t quite understand why the housing market shot up so much in the last year when expectations didn’t go up, at least not among homebuyers,” he said.

The big investors also take out of circulation houses priced for the lower rungs on the economic ladder.

“Obviously that makes it harder for the first-time homebuyer, as if they didn’t have enough challenges already,” said Glenn Crellin, associate director of research at the University of Washington’s Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies.

Owning a home isn’t as popular or feasible as it once was:  Since 2004, the home ownership rate among younger households has plunged.  

Stagnant income growth, high levels of student-loan debt and tighter lending policies– not to mention bad memories of the housing bust– all push more households toward renting homes, analysts say.

…An excerpt from the Seattle Times, you can read the full article here

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Regular folks nowadays need someplace to live, a place where they can still keep the American Dream alive.

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Two Largest Grocery Chains Won’t Sell GMO Salmon

 

Safeway and Kroger Say No to GMOs

VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

The two largest grocery stores in the United States, Safeway and Kroger, have promised they won’t sell GMO
salmon. 

Over 9,000 stores nationwide have now committed to being free
of the controversial fish.

Safeway, the number two conventional grocer with 1,406 stores, confirmed their position in an email to Friends of the Earth last week and said they plan to post their statement online.

Kroger, the US’s leading grocery chain with 2,424 stores, informed Friends of the Earth of its decision in an email from Keith Dailey, director of media relations at Kroger.  “Should genetically engineered salmon be approved, Kroger has no intention of sourcing it”, Dailey wrote.

Dana Perls, Food and Technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said:  “By making commitments to not sell genetically engineered salmon, Kroger and Safeway have joined the large number of grocery chains, from Trader Joe’s to Target, that have wisely chosen to listen to the majority of consumers who do not want to eat genetically engineered fish.”

“Now Costco, Walmart, Albertsons and other retailers need to catch up and provide their customers with what they want:  natural, sustainable seafood that isn’t genetically
engineered in a lab,” Perls said.

The total number of companies committed to not sell genetically engineered salmon now stands at more than 60 retailers, including: Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, Meijer, Hy-Vee, Marsh, Giant Eagle, and now Safeway and Kroger, representing more than 9,000 grocery stores across the country.

Nearly 2 million people have written to the FDA opposing the approval of genetically the engineered salmon, in response to Aqua Bounty’s revised draft environmental assessment in 2013.  Despite this outcry, the FDA is still considering approving GE salmon.

It has also said it will probably not be labeled, so consumers will have no way of knowing if the fish they are feeding their families is genetically engineered.

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Via YouTube/Link TV, Undernews, The Ecologist
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Bitcoin CEO Found Dead in Singapore

 

Mysterious Suicide One of Many in Financial Industry

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

The American CEO of a Bitcoin and virtual currency exchange was found dead in her Singapore apartment last
week under mysterious circumstances, multiple sources report.

Autumn Radtke was CEO of First Meta, a virtual currency exchange based in Singapore.  The company allowed users to buy and sell virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, as well as exchange national currencies for virtual currencies and virtual currencies for national currencies, according to Forbes.

Prior to taking the reins at First Meta in 2012, the 28-year-old Radtke had once closely worked with technology giant Apple to bring cloud-computing software to Johns Hopkins University, Los Alamos Labs and the Aerospace Corp., according to her biography.  She then took up business development roles at tech start-ups Xfire and Geodelic Systems, according
to information on her LinkedIn profile.

Radtke was discovered in her apartment on February 28, the Daily Mail newspaper in London reported.  City officials are waiting for the toxicology results but local media outlets are calling her death a suicide.  She was 28 years old.

Autumn’s death comes on the heels of the collapse of the Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange Mt Gox last week, after $500 million went missing overnight, as well as the March 4 closure of the Flexcoin bank in Canada after hackers stole $600,000, according to the UK’s Daily Mail.

A note on the company’s website said, “The First Meta team is shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and CEO Autumn Radtke.  Our deepest condolences go out to her family, friends and loved ones.  Autumn was an inspiration to all of us and she will be sorely missed.”

According to the website, Radtke had lived in Singapore since January of 2012.

Her death comes as troubles swirl around the nascent cryptocurrency industry, and amid a rash of suicides in the financial industry as a whole. 

Radtke’s death is one of eight suspected financial sector suicides in 2014.

Other mysterious deaths in the field include:  

a 33-year-old JPMorgan finance pro who jumped off the roof of the JPMorgan Hong Kong office on Feb. 18; Gabriel Magee, 39, a vice president with JPMorgan’s corporate and investment bank technology branch in the UK who jumped off the roof of the bank’s Canary Wharf tower in London on Jan. 28; and Ryan Henry Crane, 37, a JPMorgan executive director who was found dead inside his Stamford, Conn., home on Feb. 3.

Financial-related suicides are common during times of market upheaval, such as were witnessed during the Great Depression or the Crash of 1987.  However, the recent deaths are unusual inasmuch as they have coincided with a surge of major indexes to record highs.

 

Via Daily Mail/CNN/Google News/CNBC

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Hundreds Arrested in White House Pipeline Protest

 

Anti-Keystone XL Pipeline Rally Draws 1,200 People in D.C.

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

The students became the activists by vocally protesting the controversial tar sands XL pipeline in Washington D.C. 
with hundreds being arrested.

More than 300 anti-Keystone XL protesters were arrested Sunday afternoon outside the White House in the latest push by environmentalists to convince the Obama administration to reject the Canadian oil pipeline.

The student-led protest, organized by XL Dissent, started with a rally at Georgetown University.

The students marched from there to the White House — with
a stop at Secretary of State John Kerry’s house along the way.

Students from 80 colleges participated in Sunday’s event, and another protest was held on Monday in San Francisco, said Aly Johnson-Kurts, a freshman at Smith College and one of the organizers of the event.

“The youth really understand the traditional methods of creating change are not sufficient… so we needed to escalate,” said Johnson, shortly before she was arrested at the White House.

Organizers held civil disobedience training on Saturday to ensure
that the demonstration went peacefully. 

Protesters chanted, yelled, held signs, held hands, and chained themselves to the White House fence anticipating arrest.

An organizer estimated the crowd at about 1,200 people.  U.S. Park Police could not immediately provide a count of those arrested Sunday afternoon.

 

An excerpt from UnderNews and Politico, you can read more
details of the White House protest and subsequent arrests here.

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Oscars 2014

 

Academy Awards, Red Carpet, and Few Moviegoers

VIDEO TRAILERS

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

The Oscars were ceremoniously handed out this year to
movies seldom seen or heard by movie audiences on the
whole.

12 Years a Slave” won the Oscar for best picture at Sunday’s 86th Academy Awards, while the 3D space spectacle “Gravity” triumphed as the night’s top award-winner.

Lupita Nyong’o, the breakout star of “12 Years a Slave,” accepted the award for best supporting actress.  In her feature film debut, the 31-year-old actress made an indelible impression as the tortured slave Patsey.

“It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s, and so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance,” said Nyong’o.  

She also thanked director Steve McQueen: “I’m certain that the dead are standing about you and they are watching and they are grateful, and so am I.”

She added, “When I look down at this golden statue may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

Gravity” cleaned up in technical categories, earning seven Oscars including best director for Alfonso Cuaron.  The Mexican filmmaker is the category’s first Latino winner (movie trailer below).

“It was a transformative experience,” said Cuaron, who spent some five years making the film and developing its visual effects.  “For a lot of people, that transformation was wisdom.  For me, it was the color of my hair.”

The awards for best actor went to Matthew McConaughey, for his role as a desperate and determined AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club.” 

Best actress went to Cate Blanchett for playing a fragile socialite experiencing a meltdown in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”

Jared Leto won best supporting actor for his acclaimed performance as a transgender woman with AIDS in “Dallas Buyers Club.”  He dedicated the award to his mother, his date for the evening.  “Thank you for teaching me to dream,” he said.

Best documentary went to the crowd-pleasing backup singer ode “20 Feet From Stardom.”  One of its stars, Darlene Love, accepted the award singing the gospel tune “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”

Though the ceremony lacked a big opening number, it had a musical beat to it.

Bono and U2 performed an acoustic version of “Ordinary Love,” their Oscar-nominated song from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” a tune penned in tribute to the late South African leader Nelson Mandela.  Singing his nominated “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2,” Pharrell Williams had Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Leonardo DiCaprio dancing in the aisles.

And Pink, wearing a dress the color of Dorothy Gale’s ruby slippers, sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as part of a tribute to the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” as Judy Garland’s children — Liza Minnelli, and Lorna and Joey Luft — watched from the audience.

The list of awards is below and the blue links lead to the official movie trailers.

 

And the winners were…

BEST PICTURE:  “12 Years a Slave”

ACTOR:  Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club

ACTRESS:  Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine

SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”

DIRECTOR:  Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity” (trailer at bottom)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  Spike Jonze, “Her

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:  20 Feet from Stardom

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:  The Great Beauty” (Italy)

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:  Frozen

CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Emmanuel Lubezki, “Gravity”

COSTUME DESIGN:  The Great Gatsby,” Catherine Martin

FILM EDITING:  “Gravity,” Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:  “Dallas Buyers Club,” Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

ORIGINAL SONG:  Let It Go” from “Frozen,” music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

ORIGINAL SCORE:  Gravity,” Steven Price

PRODUCTION DESIGN:  The Great Gatsby,” Catherine Martin (production design) and Beverley Dunn (set decoration)

SOUND EDITING:  Gravity,” Glenn Freemantle

SOUND MIXING:  Gravity,” Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead and Chris Munro

VISUAL EFFECTS:  Gravity,” Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:  Mr. Hublot

DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM:  The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”

LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM:  Helium

 

 

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California Couple Stumble Across $10 Million Gold Hoard

 

Largest Treasure Horde Ever Found in North America

 

VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

The California couple who stumbled on what may be the most valuable cache of gold coins ever found in North America while on their daily walk were so taken aback that they reburied them in an old ice chest until they could figure out their next step.

That was the story relayed by John and Mary in an interview transcript posted by the numismatic firm Kagin’s Inc., which is representing the couple and keeping their identities confidential.

The pair had walked the path on their Gold Country property for years before they spotted the edge of a rusty can peeking out of the moss in the shadow of an old tree last February, they told Kagin’s.  When they cracked the lid off with a nearby stick, they found dirt-encrusted coins.  All together, there were eight cans filled with coins beneath the surface.

The face value of the coins were $28,000.  If the coins were melted down, the gold alone would be worth $2 million, said David Hall, co-founder of Professional Coin
Grading Services in Newport Beach, who recently
authenticated the coins.

On the market, however, the “Saddle Ridge Hoard,” named for the space on the couple’s property, may be the most valuable treasure cache ever found in North America, with an estimated value of more than $10 million. 

Most of the coins are $20 gold pieces, known as double eagles.  All of those were made at the San Francisco mint, founded in 1854 to process the nuggets that prospectors were finding in the newly discovered California gold fields.

But at least one of the coins came from a much earlier bonanza—a rare $5 piece known as a Dahlonega half eagle.  That’s Dahlonega, Georgia.

The couple said that when they realized what they had found, they dug a hole in their wood pile, placed the rare and perfectly preserved 1,400 coins in bags and boxes in an old ice chest and buried them again.

“I looked around over my shoulder to see if someone was looking at me — I had the idea of someone on horseback in my head.  It’s impossible to describe really, the strange reality of that moment,” John said in the interview.

All dated between 1847 and 1894, 13 of the coins are the finest of their kind.  One “miraculous coin,” an 1866 $20 piece made in San Francisco and missing “In God We Trust,” could bring $1 million on its own, Hall said.  When the motto was added to the coin in 1866, some were still minted without the phrase, he said.

Had the couple attempted to clean the delicate surface of the piece, they could have reduced the value to $7,000 or $8,000 in under a minute, said David McCarthy, senior numismatist for Kagin’s, who evaluated the hoard.

“A lot of people see stuff like this and all they see are dollar signs,” McCarthy said.  ”If I got to bestow these treasures on people, I would do that on this family without even blinking an eye.”

John and Mary,” who prefer to remain anonymous and their property location undisclosed, said they plan to keep some of the coins and sell others on Amazon.com with the intention of donating part of the proceeds to charity.

More important, they said, they will use the money to pay the steep taxes expected to be levied on the find and to hold on to their home.  They did not explain further.

“Whatever answers you seek, they might be right at home,” Mary said.  “The answer to our difficulties was right there under our feet for years.”

The bigger mystery remains, however, as to who the original owner of the cash stash was– and why he let $10 million of cold hard gold slip from his fingers and go buried and forgotten for over a hundred years.

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Luxury, Economy …and the Post Office

 

A New Paradigm In the National Interest

 

Jim Hightower
JimHightower.com

 

Luxury Buyers Leading the Way to Economic Recovery

 

Who says the economy is down and that consumers aren’t willing to spend, spend, spend in order to stimulate new economic growth?

The problem with gloomy economists and skittish policymakers is that they don’t know where to look for signs that the BOOM TIMES are back, baby!

For example, take auto sales.  

Yeah, overall they’re putzing along at a moderate-to-low pace.  But open your eyes, people!  Do you not see that Maserati sales were up 55 percent last year, or that Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Porsche, and Bentley also produced double-digit increases?

Listen to Matt Hlavin, a Cleveland high roller who told the New York Times that he bought three Mercedes last year – one for $237,000, another for $165,000, and an auxiliary $97,000 number for the wife.

Extravagant? It’s all a matter of perspective: “I look at it as, I don’t have a boat,” Matt explains.  There ya go– economics is all about having a positive attitude.

So, with a booming stock market, high-tech wealth bubbling like crazy, and Fortune 500 CEOs making big bales of hay while the sun shines, what’s not to like about America’s economic future?  An automotive lifestyle consultant told the Times, “Luxury is not a dirty word anymore.”

Now isn’t that a telling insight?  

You see, when Wall Street crashed six years ago, then got bailed out by Washington while the middle class sank, many of your 1-percenters-and-higher got squeamish about living the luxurious life they deserve.  But that’s not the American way – hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Surely we can all see the social value of top-end buyers who’re willing to step up to make big-ticket purchases again.  By leading the consumer charge, those bold luxury buyers are providing a role model that your lower classes need to do their own part in reviving America’s economy.

 

Sourced from “High Rollers in a Buying Mood,” The New York Times, January 2, 2014.

 

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Don’t Shutter the Post Office.  Expand the Services!

 

What’s the matter with the post office?

The US Postal Service, I mean – the corporate hierarchy that runs this enormously popular public institution.  Yes, I know that USPS has lost revenue it traditionally got from first-class mail delivery, but I also know that letter carriers and postal workers have offered many excellent ideas for expanding the services that USPS can deliver, thus increasing both revenue and the importance of maintaining these community treasures.

Yet, the Postal Board of Governors, which includes corporate interests that would profit by killing the public service, seems intent on– guess what?– killing it.

The board’s only “idea” is to cut services and shut down hundreds of local post offices.  Incredibly, their list of closures include the historic post office in Philadelphia’s Old City, the very building where Ben Franklin presided as our country’s first Postmaster General, appointed by the Continental Congress in 1775.

All across the country, post offices that are invaluable artistic and historic assets are slated to be sold to developers.

One is the marvelous 1935 Bronx post office, with classic architectural flourishes and 13 museum-worthy murals.

“It’s not just a post office,” says one customer fighting the closure, “it’s part of my life.”  No one feels that way about a Fed Ex warehouse.  Yet, says a USPS spokeswoman dismissively, the four-story building is “severely underused.”

So, use it!

Put a coffee shop in it, a public internet facility, a library and museum, a one-stop government services center – and, as USPS employees have suggested, a public bank offering basic services to the thousands of neighborhood people ignored by commercial banks.

Come on, USPS, show a little creativity and gumption, and remember that “service” is a key part of your name!

 

Sourced from “Protest Aside, Postal Service Is Taking Next Step to Sell Grand Property in the Bronx,” The New York Times, February 5, 2014.

Elizabeth Warren Proposes Replacing Payday Lenders With the Post Office,” www.thinkporgress.org, February 3, 2013.

 

Jim Hightower is a Texan, columnist, and populist who believes that to move America from greed to greatness, we must fuel the power and the passion of our nation’s workaday majority. You can listen to more of Jim Hightower’s commentaries here.

 

 

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The Changing Economics of Farmland

 

Driving Up Food Costs:

Aging Farmers Retire Family Farms to Private Investors

VIDEO

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

The family farm is changing.

An estimated 400 million acres of farmland in the United States will likely change hands over the coming two decades as older farmers retire.  New evidence indicates this land is being strongly pursued by private equity investors.

Mirroring a trend being experienced across the globe, this increasing focus on agriculture-related investment by the private sector is already leading to a spike in U.S. farmland prices.  Coupled with relatively weak federal policies, these rising prices are barring many young farmers from continuing or starting up small-scale agricultural operations of their own.

In the long term, critics say, this dynamic could speed up the already fast-consolidating U.S. food industry, with broad ramifications for both human and environmental health.

“When non-operators own farms, they tend to source out the oversight to management companies, leading in part to horrific conditions around labor and how we treat the land,” Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute, a U.S. watchdog group focusing on global large-scale land acquisitions, said.

“They also reprioritize what commodities are grown on that land, based on what can yield the highest return.  This is no longer necessarily about food at all, but rather is a way to reap financial profits. Unfortunately, that’s far removed from the central role that land ultimately plays in terms of climate change, growing hunger and the stability of the global economy.”

In a new report, the Oakland Institute tracks rising interest from some of the financial industry’s largest players.  Citing information from Freedom of Information Act requests, the group says this includes bank subsidiaries– the Swiss UBS Agrivest; pension funds like the U.S. TIAA-CREF; and other private equity interests such as HAIG, a subsidiary of Canada’s largest insurance group.

“Today, enthusiasm for agriculture farmland borders on speculative mania.  Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before,” the report states.

“Driven by the same structural factors and perpetrated by many of the same investors, the corporate consolidation of agriculture is being felt just as strongly in Iowa and California as it is in the
Philippines and Mozambique.”

As yet, the amount of U.S. land owned by private investors is thought to be relatively low.  The report points to a 2011 industry estimate that large-scale investors at the time owned around one percent of U.S. farmland, worth between $3 to $5 billion dollars.

Last year, however, another industry analyst put this figure at around $10 billion dollars, suggesting that the institutional share of farmland ownership is rising quickly.

In the year after food prices suddenly rose in 2008, global speculation in land rose by some 200 percent.

With the international financial meltdown coinciding almost simultaneously with this crisis, investors have increasingly viewed agricultural land as a relatively safe place to put their money amidst rising volatility.

In the United States, investors are eyeing potential future returns from mineral prospecting, water rights and strengthening trends in meat consumption.  U.S. farmland is also seen as globally desirable due to a combination of high-tech farming opportunities and lax regulations regarding the use of genetically modified crops.

As a result of this new interest, land prices in the United States have risen by an estimated 213 percent over the past decade.  This could now play into two trends at once.

The most recent statistics suggest that just 6 percent of farmers are under 35 of age.  Further, some 70 percent of U.S. farmland is owned by people 65 years or older.

“The older generation needs to cash out because they have no retirement funds, even as the new generation doesn’t have the capital to get into the kind of debt that starting a farm requires,” Severine von Tscharner Fleming, a farmer and co-founder of the Agrarian Trust, a group that helps new farmers access land, said.

“Today there is a huge number of older folks trying to decide what to do with their land, and in many places we don’t have many years to help them make that decision.  So in that sense there’s an urgent need, and we don’t have many tools at the federal level to help.”

For the most part, Fleming suggests, U.S. federal agriculture policy today is not aligned to the country’s best interests, instead pointing away from greater agricultural diversity, regional resilience and greater strengthened opportunity for rural economies.  Nonetheless, she says that her organization is encountering a surge of attention from young people that want to start their own farms.

“Over the past seven years, we’ve had an explosion of interest in being trained as a farmer and entering the trade of agriculture, and this is very much related to the crises around the banks and the environment,” she says.

“The problem we’re facing is not one in which nobody wants to farm, but rather the fact that the U.S. economy is structured in such a way that makes it really hard to start a farm in this country.”

 

Via Undernews/Popular Resistance

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Comcast Becomes Internet’s Greatest Threat

 

Monopoly Merger Means Big Changes for Access, Costs, and Net Freedom

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

A Big Dog of internet and cable access is moving on in–
and it wants a big bite of what you’ve got.

Comcast agreed to acquire Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion in stock, a surprise deal that combines the two largest U.S. cable companies.  The move is expected by industry analysts to thwart competition from other smaller phone, satellite, and cable providers—such as Verizon, AT&T, SuddenLink and Charter cable.

Comcast’s takeover of Time Warner is a bad-to-worse deal for consumers.  We already have little TV and internet competition and unless the government vetoes this Comcastic deal, there will be even less.

Let’s put it this way:  the public interest isn’t served when a company providing one-third of all cable TV service in America replaces two smaller ones (which were plenty big in the first place).  It isn’t served when that company already owns one of the four major broadcast networks, a major movie studio, several cable channels (including CNBC) and other properties.

And the public interest is distinctly not served when what’s already the largest and most important internet service provider becomes vastly more so.  The smaller cable companies, with their inherently better bandwidth-than-phone company DSL lines, are becoming natural merger targets for wired-line internet access.

Will the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department veto this buyout?  Don’t bet on it.  The cable industry’s clout is enormous, and Comcast is the Big Dog in that pack.

“This is a deal that needs to be blocked,” Jodie Griffin, senior staff attorney at consumer rights group Public Knowledge said.

Griffin said Comcast was likely to use the extra leverage to “drive up costs and reduce choices for consumers” and claimed the new company would be too powerful, becoming a “gatekeeper” capable of “throttling competition.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings also attacked Comcast, accusing the cable firm of capping data it provides to streaming companies like his own in order to favor Comcast’s own Xfinity video-on-demand app.  Recent studies show that Comcast users receive their Netflix media at significantly slower speeds than those using other internet service providers.

Craig Aaron, president of internet rights lobby group Free Press, said that while the immediate effects of the merger were likely to be price rises and less competition, the long-term consequences could be even more serious.

“This is a company that has already been caught blocking internet traffic,” said Aaron.  “But it’s clear their long-term plan is to take a free and open internet and turn it into something like cable TV, where they pick the channels and they speed them up and slow them down based on who pays them the most.”

“If you hate your cable guy now, you are going to hate your cable guy on steroids,” said Aaron.

Alongside Netflix, Comcast has been criticized for slowing users’ broadband connections by the lobby group Electronic Frontier Foundation.  EFF attorney Mitch Stoltz called the merger “dangerous.”

“One company will effectively control the only data pipe going into a near majority of American homes, whether that’s internet TV or phones,” Stoltz said.  “If that company gets to play favorites… that’s dangerous.”

Stoltz said the companies might not compete directly, but that their combined marketing and purchasing power would give them unprecedented clout over programming whether it was delivered to TVs or to the internet.  “At this point that is largely an irrelevance to them,” he said.

 

From Salon:

Early analysis of the proposed merger suggests that Comcast might evade antitrust scrutiny by shedding 3 million or so cable-TV subscribers, giving it just under one-third of the total number of such subscribers in the U.S.  

Comcast will boast 33 million broadband Internet subscribers and control half the market for so-called triple play (broadband, TV, telephone) access in the U.S.

But don’t be fooled. While there are obvious concerns that a post-merger Comcast would have immense leverage in future negotiations with cable TV content providers, that’s not the most pressing issue at stake.  It is a broadband Internet play, not a traditional cable-TV access move.

Philadelphia-based Comcast will become the largest broadband provider in the United States, and perhaps the largest outside China.  Those are numbers that should give every Netflix-watcher pause.  Not to mention YouTube users, Spotify streamers, or any other consumer of high-bandwidth Internet services.

The sheer physical reality of our nation’s telecommunication infrastructure means that whoever controls the cable network has the biggest leg up in the Internet access sweepstakes.  

Verizon and Google have been attempting to roll out fiber-optic networks that can compete effectively with cable speeds, but right now, the cable companies already own a considerable advantage over all their competitors in terms of being able to offer the fastest download and upload speeds.

In a country increasingly addicted to high-bandwidth video streaming, that’s a very big deal. 

And you can expect Comcast to lower those speeds and direct only specified content they want you to have.

 

From The Washington Post:

A Comcast-TWC merger is a big deal not just because it puts a huge number of subscribers underneath a single roof.  

It’s a big deal because, thanks to ongoing industry trends, Comcast is already poised to become vastly more powerful without having to lift a finger.

Here’s one example.  When you use your mobile device outside or on public transit, chances are you’re on 3G or LTE networks owned and operated by your wireless carrier.  But anytime you’re indoors — at home or at work — you’re probably on WiFi, meaning that your traffic is ultimately getting shunted onto a fixed or wired network.  Guess who owns those cables?  For many homes, it’s Comcast.

The Comcast-TWC merger could also affect the fate of streaming services like Netflix. 

Netflix has a complicated relationship with cable companies; the video service reaches many Comcast subscribers now over broadband but is seeking to be put on set-top boxes.   Some say Netflix will have trouble meeting its aggressive growth targets without the help of pay-TV customers.  

By adding TWC’s customers to its own, Comcast may soon have much more to offer Netflix, which would put Netflix at a greater bargaining disadvantage.

All of this is taking place against the backdrop of the recent net neutrality court decision that made it legal for Internet providers to block or throttle Web traffic.

While there’s no concrete evidence yet that this is occurring, the ruling inherently gives ISPs such as Comcast greater control over how consumers experience the Internet.   As a result of the merger, Comcast will be taking on 8 million TWC subscribers, all of whom will be newly subject to Comcast’s bandwidth policies.

 

Is this deal for controlling internet delivery too big to fail?

“I don’t know if the deal is too big to fail or to be approved but it is definitely too big to sail through either the Department of Justice or the FCC without serious, serious examination,” said former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt.

Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts, however, said he was confident about getting the green light from regulators as the two companies plan to divest 3 million subscribers, so that their combined customer base of 30 million would represent just under 30 percent of the U.S. pay television video market.

He said no decisions have been made on which markets to sell or how policies will change.

 * * * * * * * * * *

Posted in NationalComments Off

Craigslist Killer Confesses to 22 Slayings Across US

 

 

19-Year-Old Serial Murderer Part of Satanic Cult Luring Victims, She Says


(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

SUNBURY, PA– Move over Dexter.

Nineteen-year-old satanist Miranda Barbour admits to killing Troy LaFerrara of Port Trevorton.  And there are more victims spread across the nation, she claims.

In a prison interview Friday night, she said that she considered sparing his life until he said the wrong thing.  She also said LaFerrara was one of dozens of such victims she killed in the past six years.

Barbour, with her husband, Elytte Barbour, 22, of Selinsgrove, has been charged by Sunbury police in the Nov. 11 fatal knifing of LaFerrara.  She requested an interview that was recorded by the Northumberland County Prison on Friday night.

While she offered scant details of her participation in slayings in Alaska, Texas, North Carolina and California, city police confirmed Saturday they had been working, prior to her revelations Friday night, with investigators from other states and the FBI about Miranda Barbour’s possible connection to other killings.  

The majority of her murders, she said, took place in Alaska.

City police on Saturday would not comment on the status of those investigations.

 

At 22 Victims, “I Stopped Counting”

Asked Friday night how many people she had killed, Miranda Barbour said through a jailhouse phone:  “When I hit 22, I stopped counting.”

She wants to plead guilty to LaFerrara’s murder, and said she is ready to speak with police about her other victims.

“I can pinpoint on a map where you can find them,” she said.  LaFerrara, Miranda Barbour said, was Elytte’s first victim.

The 42-year-old Port Trevorton resident was killed on the Barbours’ three-week wedding anniversary.  “I remember everything,” Miranda Barbour said. “It is like watching a movie.”

She said she agreed to sex for $100 with LaFerrara, whom she met through a Craigslist ad.  The two met in the parking lot of the Susquehanna Valley Mall in Hummels Wharf, and drove nearly six miles to Sunbury.

At one point, she planned to let LaFerrara out of her Honda CRV.

“He said the wrong things,” she said. “And then things got out of control. I can tell you he was not supposed to be stabbed. My husband was just supposed to strangle him.”

 

Time to “Get It Out”

According to the obtained court documents, Miranda Barbour stabbed LaFerrara 20 times as Elytte Barbour sprang from the floor of the back seat to strap a cord around LaFerrara’s neck.

As she said upon her arrest, Miranda Barbour on Friday night repeated that LaFerrara tried to grope her, but she said it was his words that set her off.

“I lied to him and told him I just turned 16,” she said.

“He told me that it was OK.  If he would have said no, that he wasn’t going to go through with the  arrangement, I would have let him go.”

Miranda Barbour said she doesn’t care whether people believe her, that she wanted to tell her story because she wanted to come clean and stop living a lie.  She said she felt no remorse for her victims and said she killed only “bad people,” a belief she traced through a troubled childhood.

She said she was sexually molested at age 4 and was introduced to murder at 13, literally in the hands of a man who led her to satanism — beliefs that she said she held at the time of the LaFerrara homicide.

“I feel it is time to get all of this out,” she said.  “I don’t care if people believe me. I just want to get it out.”

 

Suspect: I Joined Satanic Cult

Miranda said when she was 4, she was sexually molested by a relative.

Elizabeth Dean, Miranda’s mother, confirmed Saturday that her sister’s husband was later arrested and charged with sexual abuse of a minor and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

“It was bad,” Dean said. “I never let (her) stay anywhere except for my sister’s house, and I was devastated when I found out.”

Nine years later, Miranda joined a satanic cult in Alaska.  Soon after, Miranda said, she had her first experience in murder.

Barbour said she went with the leader of the satanic cult to meet a man who owed the cult leader money.

“It was in an alley and he (the cult leader) shot him,” she said, declining to identify the cult leader.

“Then he said to me that it was my turn to shoot him.  I hate guns.  I don’t use guns.  I couldn’t do it, so he came behind me and he took his hands and put them on top of mine and we pulled the trigger.  And then from there I just continued to kill.”

While in the satanic cult, Miranda became pregnant.  The cult did not want her to have the baby, so, she said, members tied her to a bed, gave her drugs and she had an “in-house abortion.”

However, her mother on Saturday said that when Miranda told her about the abortion, she took her daughter to a doctor who said there were no signs of an ended pregnancy.

Miranda said she spent the next three years in Alaska, continuing in the satanic cult and participating in several murders.

“I wasn’t always there (mentally),” she said, adding that she had begun to use drugs.  “I knew something was bad inside me and the satanic beliefs brought it out.  I embraced it.”

During those three years, Miranda said she became pregnant again.

“And I moved to North Carolina,” she said.  “I wanted to start over and forget everything I did.”

She left Alaska as a high-ranking official in the satanic world, leaving the father of her second pregnancy, a man named Forest, the No. 2 leader in their cult, who was murdered.

 

Ready to Talk to Police

Although Miranda would not say who else may have been involved in the alleged murders, she said all police have to do is talk to her because she is ready to speak.

“I would lure these people in,” she said.  

“I studied them.  I learned them and even became their friend.  I did this to people who did bad things and didn’t deserve to be here anymore.”

Sunbury police Chief Steve Mazzeo said authorities are aware of Miranda’s claims of murders, are taking them very seriously, and are also aware of Friday night’s interview.  Prison officials have been cooperating with his department, Mazzeo said.

“We are reviewing the recording of interview and I will not confirm or deny anything at this point,” he said.

“I will however say that through investigations by lead officer Travis Bremigen, he has been in contact with several other states and is working with law enforcement from various cities and towns.  From information we gathered and from information gathered from her interview we are seriously concerned and have been in contact with the proper authorities,” Mazzeo said.

Mazzeo also said investigators will be looking into the death of a man with whom Miranda Barbour had a 1-year-old child.  He would not elaborate.

During the interview, Miranda was asked that, given her small stature, how people would believe she would be capable of murder.

“Looks,” she said, “can be deceiving.”

Asked why she pleaded not guilty to the LaFerrara murder, she simply said: “I didn’t want to.”

“When I was at my arraignment and the judge asked me how do I plead, I was ready to say guilty and my attorney (chief public defender Ed Greco) grabbed the microphone and said not guilty.”

Miranda Barbour said she has not spoken with her husband since the day she was arrested, but saw a news photo of Elytte Barbour’s new teardrop tattoo that he displayed at his most recent court appearance.

 

Husband:  “Proud of What He Did”

Elytte Barbour, her accomplice, is being held in Columbia County Jail.

“He is proud of what he did,” she said. “I will always love him.”

Elytte Barbour told officers before his arrest that he and his wife, Miranda, had planned to kill before, but their plans never worked out.

That was until victim Troy LaFerrara responded to an online posting that promised companionship in return for money, authorities said.

According to Sunbury police, Elytte Barbour told investigators he hid in the backseat of the couple’s SUV as his wife picked up LaFerrara at a mall Nov. 11.  He told police that, on his wife’s signal, he wrapped a cord around LaFerrara’s neck, restraining him while Miranda Barbour stabbed him.

Following his wife’s arrest, Elytte Barbour told news media that Miranda Barbour, whom he married Oct. 22, regularly hired herself out as a “companion” to men she met on various websites, a business venture he said he supported because it didn’t involve sexual contact.

Barbour said his wife made anywhere from $50 to $850 by meeting with men for such activities as having dinner together or walking around a mall.  The ads she placed on websites including Craigslist all said upfront that sex was not part of the deal, he said.

“She is not a prostitute,” he said. “What she does is meet men who have broken marriages or have no one in their lives, and she meets with them and has delightful conversation.”

Miranda said she has no regrets for any of her alleged crimes.

“I have none,” she said.

“I know I will never see my husband again and I have accepted that.  I know I wanted to talk about all this because I know I had a 20-year window where I would possibly get out of jail and I don’t want that to happen.  If I were to be released, I would do this again.

“By no means is this a way to glorify it or get attention.  I’m telling you because it is time for me to be honest and I feel I need to be honest.”

* * * * * * * * *

 

Via Newsy/Google News/Sunbury Times/BBC

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Posted in Crime, National3 Comments

Bigfoot Found: Bagged, Stuffed, and Coming to a Town Near You

 

There is a Sucker (and Huckster) Born Every Minute

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

SAN ANTONIO, TexasDon’t believe everything you hear.

In 2009, San Antonio dispatchers couldn’t believe their ears.  A 911 call was made from a homeless couple camping near Hwy 151 who claimed a Bigfoot was in the woods with them.  The story made the news and the chase was on.

“That news story that you covered, that’s what let the cat out of the bag,” said self-proclaimed Bigfoot hunter Rick Dyer.

Dyer said that report prompted him to head to Texas, where he tracked down the Sasquatch and shot not one– but two– of the beasts near Loop 1604 in northwest Bexar County.

“There’s no allegedly about it.  I shot and killed the beasts there,” Dyer said.

Dyer said he baited the creature with $200 worth of ribs before he shot and killed it.  “I nailed … pork ribs from the WalMart down the street to the side of the tree, and low [sic] and behold, he came out and started eating the pork ribs off the tree,” Dyer said.

If Dyer’s name sounds familiar to viewers, it’s because he made the news for other reasons of credibility.  In 2011 San Antonio police arrested him for defrauding folks on eBay for allegedly selling them Corvettes he never delivered.

But Dyer’s real fame comes from among the Bigfoot hunting community themselves.  He is known for a Sasquatch hoax in 2008 that gained international attention.  The Bigfoot specimen he obtained and exhibited at the time was revealed to be a fake after a researcher stuck his hand inside the case and discovered it was merely a rubber ape costume.  Dyer claimed the ‘real’ Bigfoot had unknowingly been stolen the night before– and deviously switched with an identical replacement.

“Yes, I played a hoax, and I take full responsibility for it,” Dyer said.  ”I did the hoax and ever since then, I have been a Bigfoot tracker.”

Dyer said he’s on tour now with his latest “kill,” to restore his reputation.  He plans to exhibit his second specimen in the coming weeks.

“It’s just impossible to be faked.  I don’t have the budget to fake it, if it could be done,” Dyer said.

His tour is called the “I told You So” tour, currently located in the Texas panhandle with stops planned in Houston, Austin and San Antonio.

According to news reports, stops in parts of New Mexico and Arizona have reportedly fallen apart, with venues refusing to hold his exhibit.

So, what exactly is in the glass enclosure in his trailer?

Dyer calls him “Hank,” and says it’s an 800-pound, 8-foot creature—stuffed and mounted for public viewing.  It’s a new species, Dyer insists.

When pressed for details about claims of DNA tests, an autopsy and an MRI, Dyer said an unnamed, West Coast university has taken 15 months to complete them all.

“They dissected the body.  The heart and lungs will be on display at the medical press conference.  I love the controversy because people think, ‘Oh, this is just another dumb country boy hoax,’ but what they’re looking at is a real Bigfoot,” Dyer said. 

“On Feb. 9, we’re going to unveil the medical results.  And then on the 28th, we’re going to do an international press conference.”

At first, Dyer’s promoter said the tests haven’t been released yet.  But now Dyer says he’s signed a non-disclosure agreement with the college and cannot tell the results of the research.

Expect his taxidermied tour to reach San Antonio’s citizens in the coming weeks.

“I’m not trying to make them believe.  I’m just giving them the opportunity to come and see it.  And they can leave here and make up their own mind,” said Dyer.

We believe it’s the death of a myth and the birth of a legend.  Rick Dyer’s legend. 

We can’t wait to see how the public will respond to Dyer’s Bigfoot body tour and how the scientific world will weigh in on his alleged DNA evidence. 

Don’t hold your breath.  Remember what P.T. Barnum said about suckers.

 

Below, you can catch the 9-minute video posted this morning by Dyer himself and narrated in his own words, deciding for yourself if he truly caught and killed the elusive legendary creature or not. 

 

* * * * * * * * *

Via KENS/Huffington Post/KCTV/Rick Dyer and YouTube
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Posted in Features, National, Scene0 Comments

Ancient Infant’s DNA Unlocks Clues to Origins of First Americans

 

Genome Mapped of 12,600-Year-Old Clovis Culture Baby

 

–Child Found to be Direct Ancestor of an Entire Continent

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Move over, Europeans.  A genetic study suggests present-day Native Americans are descended from some of the continent’s earliest settlers– and they’re not your ancestors.

The DNA of a baby boy who was buried in Montana 12,600 years ago has been recovered, and it provides new indications of the ancient roots of today’s American Indians and other native peoples of the Americas.

It’s the oldest genome ever recovered from the New World.  Artifacts found with the infant show the boy was part of the Clovis people, a widespread, sophisticated Ice Age culture in North America.  They appeared in America about 13,000 years ago and hunted mammoth, mastodon and bison.

The boy’s remains, uncovered at the Anzick Site in Montana in 1968, were associated with distinctive Clovis stone tools.  In fact, it is the only known skeleton directly linked to artifacts from this culture.

The DNA indicates the boy’s ancestors came from Asia, supporting the standard idea of ancient migration to the Americas by way of a land bridge that disappeared long ago.

The boy’s genome showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today’s native peoples in the Americas, researchers said.  He was more closely related to those in Central and South America than to those in Canada.  The reason for that difference isn’t clear, scientists said

The researchers found that around 80% of today’s Native Americans are related to the “clan” from which the boy came.  The researchers said they had no Native American DNA from the United States available for comparison, but that they assume the results would be same, with some Native Americans being direct descendants and others also closely related. 

The burial site, northeast of Livingston, Mont., is the only burial known from the Clovis culture.  The boy was between 1 year and 18 months old when he died of an unknown cause. 

He was buried with 125 artifacts, including spear points and elk antler tools.  Some were evidently ritual objects or heirlooms.  The artifacts and the skeleton were covered with powdered red ochre, a natural pigment, indicating a burial ceremony.

The skeleton was discovered in 1968 next to a rock cliff, but it’s only in recent years that scientists have been able to recover and analyze complete genomes from such ancient samples.

The DNA analysis was reported online yesterday in the journal Nature.  Some researchers have raised questions about the origins of early Americans, with one theory even proposing a link to Ice Age Europeans.  But the Nature study places the origins of these ancient people in Asia.

The burial site lies on the property of the parents of one of the study’s authors, Sarah Anzick.  It is known as the Anzick site.

Shane Doyle of Montana State University in Bozeman, another of the authors and a member of the Crow tribe, said the indication of such ancient roots for American Indians fits with what many tribal people already believed. He also said plans are underway to rebury the boy’s remains at the site after the winter.

The boy “was not a chief or a great hunter,” but his burial showed love and respect, Doyle said at the Montana Historical
Society in Helena on Wednesday.

Next will be a memorial at the site, he said, “Something small, so that the state of Montana, people around the world will know the importance of that place.”

In a telephone conference with reporters, the researchers said that once they discovered the link between the boy and today’s Native Americans, they sought out American Indian groups to discuss the results.  Co-author Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, an expert in deciphering ancient DNA, called for scientists to work closely with native peoples on such research.

On Wednesday, he noted there were Native American groups who said their oral history showed that they were descendants of the first people in the Americas.

“Well, they turned out to be right,” Willerslev said at the Montana museum, where artifacts from the site are on display.

The results are “going to raise a whole host of new ideas and hypotheses” about the early colonization of the Americas, said Dennis O’Rourke, an ancient DNA expert at the University of Utah.  The DNA casts doubt on theories that the Clovis were descended from Europeans or colonists from
Oceania.

The former theory relies, in part, on close similarities between Clovis tools and those of the Solutrean culture, which thrived in Ice Age France and Spain.

The latest results place the homeland for Native American peoples – including the Clovis – in Siberia.

Interestingly, however, the teams found that Native American ancestors coming in from Asia split into two groups.

One group was ancestral to native peoples presently living in Canada and the other one– which is represented by the Clovis boy– was ancestral to virtually all Native Americans in South America and Mexico.

* * * * * * * * *

Via Google News/BBC/CBS

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Posted in History, National2 Comments

Fukushima Radiation Data Wildly Wrong

 

The Management Sincerely Apologizes for Your Inconvenience–

–What’s In Your Pacific Ocean?

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

From The Times of India:

NEW DELHI:  Tepco, the utility company that is managing the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan said that there were mistakes in the radiation levels they recorded last year.

According to Japanese media, Tepco announced last week that what was recorded as 900,000 becquerels per liter of deadly beta radiation from a test-well last July was wrong– and the actual level should read 5 million becquerels per liter.

That’s five times more than what they announced previously, and nearly 170,000 times more than the permissible level leaked into the sea.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said on February 7 that it will review a “massive” amount of radiation data it has collected at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant because readings may be lower than actual figures due to improper measurement.

“We are very sorry, but we found cases in which beta radiation readings turned out to be wrong when the radioactivity concentration of a sample was high,” TEPCO spokesman Masayuki Ono told a press conference, according to Kyodo News.

Beta rays are high speed electrons that penetrate living matter with ease and can cause several types of cancer and death.  These lethal rays are emitted from various radioactive materials, but mainly from Strontium-90, which is a by-product of reactions occurring in nuclear power plant reactors.

It is likely that the total radioactivity of water samples is 10 million becquerels/liter if all beta ray sources are counted, according to Asahi Shimbun.

Tepco has not yet revealed results of 140 samples taken between June and November last year, fearing similar under-estimates.  The company said that “malfunctions of analytical equipment” caused these errors, Asahi Shimbun said.

Strontium-90 has a half life of 28.8 years; that is, any amount of the radioactive substance will decay to half the starting amount in 28.8 years.  It can thus get absorbed and continue to damage living tissue of plants as well as animals including fish.

The well from which this sample was taken is near the embankment between the damaged reactors and the sea.

Meanwhile the company also revealed that on February 6,600 liters of contaminated water, containing 2,800 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter, leaked from piping leading to a tank at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The Fukushima nuclear plant was damaged during the tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan’s eastern coast in March 2011.  The utility company Tepco has struggled to control the situation with at least one nuclear reactor in a stare of meltdown.

Over 360,000 tons of contaminated water has accumulated at the site after being poured over the simmering reactors.

* * * * * * * *

A ticking time bomb, Fukushima continues to fester in secretPay attentionPay very close attention.

 

Via Undernews/The Times of India/RT and YouTube 
Appreciation goes to Tom Sebourn

Posted in Environment, Media, National1 Comment

Teen Gets Probation After Killing 4, Seriously Injuring 2

 

Outrage:  Blame it on the ‘Affluenza’

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

It wasn’t his fault.  He was suffering from a chronically rich and badly drunken case of the flu.

The case of a Texas teen supposedly afflicted with “affluenza,” who killed four people and critically injured two others while driving drunk, triggered new outrage a day after a judge refused to send him to jail.

According to officials, the teenager and some friends were seen on surveillance video stealing two cases of beer from a store.  He had seven passengers in his Ford F-350, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit three hours after the crash, according to testimony during the trial.

The pickup fatally plowed into four pedestrians on a rural road:  Brian Jennings, 43; Breanna Mitchell, 24; Shelby Boyles, 21; and her mother Hollie Boyles, 52. 

Two 15-year-olds who were riding in the bed of his pickup were ejected and severely injured, according to a statement from prosecutors.  One is no longer able to move or talk because of a brain injury, while the other suffered internal injuries and broken bones.

His vehicle also struck a parked car, which then
slid into another vehicle driving in the opposite
direction.

The case drew national outrage after an expert psychologist for his defense testified that the teen had “affluenza”:  He was so rich and spoiled that he couldn’t connect his actions with their consequences. 

After three days of testimony, the teen confessed.  Texas District Judge Jean Boyd rejected prosecutors’ request for a 20-year term for intoxication manslaughter and sentenced him to 10 years’ probation, barring him from driving and consuming alcohol.  She did not address the intoxication assault charges related to the passengers’ severe injuries. 

On Wednesday, prosecutors were back in Boyd’s court seeking 20 years for intoxication assault.  Boyd closed the Fort Worth hearing to the public and the news media, then refused to enter a separate verdict on the assault charges.

Instead, she ordered the teen sent to a locked rehabilitation facility for an indeterminate time at his parents’ expense, according to a prosecutors’ statement.  

Boyd noted the programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system may not provide the kind of intensive treatment the teenager could receive at the California rehabilitation center suggested by his defense attorneys. 

Media sources have reported the posh treatment center being considered, Newport Academy, offers counseling, horseback riding, cooking lessons, yoga, martial arts, meditation and massage as part of clients’ therapy.  The parents would pick up the center’s cost of more than $450,000 a year for treatment, it was reported.

The sentence outraged the prosecutor and the families of the victims who said the family’s wealth had allowed him to treated better by the legal system.

“Money always seems to keep you out of trouble,” Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, told reporters.  “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail.  If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”

Boyles told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the judge told the victims’ families that her decision had not been influenced by the expert’s “affluenza” testimony. 

“Had he not had money to have the defense there, to also have the experts testify, and also offer to pay for the treatment, I think the results would have been different,” Boyles told reporters after Wednesday’s sentencing, according to CNN.

Shaunna Jennings said her family had forgiven the teenager but believed a sterner punishment was needed.

“You lived a life of privilege and entitlement, and my prayer is that it does not get you out of this,” she said.  “My fear is that it will get you out of this.”

“There can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment he received here,” prosecutor Richard Alpert told reporters.

Lawyers for the minor reportedly argued that the teen’s parents should share a part of the blame for the crash because they never set limits for the boy and gave him everything he wanted.

The psychologist who testified for the defense said that the teen is a product of something he called “affluenza” and doesn’t link bad behavior with consequences because his parents taught him that wealth buys privilege, the psychologist said in court.  

The psychologist also reportedly testified that his life could be turned around with one to two years of treatment and no contact with his parents.

He cited one instance when the boy, then 15, was caught in a parked pickup with a naked 14-year-old girl who was passed out.  He was never punished, the psychologist said, noting to the court that the teenager was allowed to drink at a very young age, and even began driving at 13.

The minor also had two prior citations for alcohol from police in February– one for being a minor in possession of alcohol, the other for consuming alcohol as a minor– only four months prior to the deadly accident. 

In March, he plead no contest in both cases.  His mother paid $423 in court costs.  As terms of his probation, her son agreed to take an alcohol awareness class and participate in 12 hours of community service, to be completed by June 19.

The deadly accident occurred on June 15.

Boyd has not publicly elaborated on her reasons for the boy’s no-jail sentence.  There have been growing calls for the Boyd’s removal following her controversial ruling.  Boyd has said she will not be running for re-election next term.

Public reaction was also harsh on Twitter:

“Let’s be real- if the Affluenza kid was brown or black, he’d be in jail.”

“Affluenza?  Four people dead?  No jail time for anyone?  Sick miscarriage of justice.  Outrageous.”

“Thank goodness the one great part of growing up poor was that I never got ‘affluenza’”

“Cant blame the ‘Affluenza’ kid or even his parents.  The lawyer and the judge to blame.  Hope he chooses to use his entire life making things right/better.”

“’Affluenza’ might be a mental affliction but NOT punishing the kid and NOT treating him normally only seems to enforce
his behavior…”

* * * * * * * *

Via Yahoo News, KRON News, CNN, Fort Worth Star Telegram, 
WFAA, LA Times, UK Online and YouTube

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Posted in Crime, National0 Comments

Native Americans: ‘No Keystone XL Pipeline Will Cross Our Lands’

 

Native Groups Vow Resistance Against ‘Black Snake’ Pipeline

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Sarah Lazare
Common Dreams

 

It could get loud.

Native American communities are promising fierce resistance to stop TransCanada from building, and President Barack Obama from permitting, the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“No Keystone XL pipeline will cross Lakota lands,” declares a joint statement from Honor the Earth, the Oglala Sioux Nation, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred.  “We stand with the Lakota Nation, we stand on the side of protecting sacred water, we stand for Indigenous land-based lifeways which will NOT be corrupted by a hazardous, toxic pipeline.”

Members of seven Lakota nation tribes, as well as indigenous communities in Idaho, Oklahoma, Montana, Nebraska and Oregon, are preparing to take action to stop Keystone XL.

“It will band all Lakota to live together and you can’t cross a living area if it’s occupied,” said Greg Grey Cloud, of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, in an interview with Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.  “If it does get approved we aim to stop it.”

The indigenous-led ‘Moccasins on the Ground’ program has been laying the groundwork for this resistance for over two years by giving nonviolent direct action trainings to front-line communities.

“We go up to wherever we’ve been invited, usually along pipeline routes,” said Kent Lebsock, director of the Owe Aku International Justice Project, in an interview with Common Dreams.  “We have three-day trainings on nonviolent direct action.  This includes blockade tactics, and discipline is a big part of the training as well.  We did nine of them last summer and fall, all the way from Montana to South Dakota, as well as teach-ins in Colorado and a training camp in Oklahoma.”

“We are working with nations from Canada and British Columbia, as well as with the people where tar sands are located,” Lebsock added.

“As an example of this nonviolent direct action,” explains Lebsock, in March 2012 people at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota held a blockade to stop trucks from transporting parts of the Keystone XL pipeline through the reservation.

In August 2013, members of the Nez Perce tribe blockaded megaloads traveling Idaho’s Highway 12 to the Alberta tar sands fields.

Descendants of the Ponca Tribe and non-native allies held a Trail of Tears Spiritual Camp in Nebraska in November to prevent the construction of the pipeline.

More spiritual camps along the proposed route of the pipeline are promised, although their date and location are not yet being publicly shared.

The promises of joint action follow the U.S. State Department’s public release on Friday of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). This report has been widely criticized as tainted by
the close ties between Transcanada and the Environmental Resource
Management contractor hired to do the report.

While the oil industry is largely spinning the report as a green-light for the pipeline, green groups emphasize that it contains stern warnings over the massive carbon pollution that would result if the pipeline is built, including the admission that tar sands oil produces approximately 17 percent more carbon than traditional crude.

The release of the FEIS kicked off a 90-day inter-agency review and 30-day public comment period. 

The pipeline’s opponents say now is a critical time to prevent Obama from approving the pipeline, which is proposed to stretch 1,179 miles from Alberta, Canada, across the border to Montana, and down to Cushing, Oklahoma where it would link with other pipelines, as part of a plan to drastically increase Canada’s tar sands production.

The southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline — which begins in Cushing, passes through communities in Oklahoma and East Texas, and arrives at coastal refineries and shipping ports — began operations last month after facing fierce opposition and protest from people in its path.

“Let’s honor the trail blazers from the Keystone XL south fight,” said Idle No More campaigner Clayton Thomas-Muller. “Time for some action, and yes, some of us may get arrested!”

 

~Via UnderNews /Common Dreams, Indian Country News, Censored News, Honor the Earth and Winona LaDuke/YouTube

* * * * * * *

Click here to look for an event near you, and sign up to host if there isn’t one near you.

Click here to sign a petition to urge Obama to stop the Keystone XL.

Support Moccasins on the Ground to organize further grassroots resistance.

 

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Posted in Environment, Features, National2 Comments

Obama Punts Marijuana Classification to Congress

 

 

“Schedule I Narcotic Is A Job for Congress”

(VIDEO)

 

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

President Barack Obama says in a new interview that that it’s up to Congress to remove marijuana from the federal government’s list of the most serious narcotics, implying but not explicitly saying that he might support such a move.

In an interview that aired Friday on CNN, Obama was pressed on recent remarks he made to the New Yorker that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and on whether he would push to remove pot from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of so-called “Schedule I” narcotics.

“First of all, what is and isn’t a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress,” Obama said.

“I stand by my belief, based, I think, on the scientific evidence, that marijuana, for casual users, individual users, is subject to abuse, just like alcohol is and should be treated as a public health problem and challenge,” Obama added.

“But as I said in the interview, my concern is when you end up having very heavy criminal penalties for individual users that have been applied unevenly, and in some cases, with a racial disparity.”

The DEA is required to make determinations, Obama said, but based on laws passed by Congress.  A spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy tweeted Wednesday that the attorney general can reclassify marijuana after a scientific review, but that it was “not likely given current science.”

But Obama wouldn’t specifically back congressional action to remove the schedule I classification for marijuana in the interview.

The drug is already treated differently than other drugs in the schedule I category.  It is decriminalized for medical purposes in almost two-dozen states, and Colorado and Washington state recently became the first to allow it for recreational use.  The Obama administration has cautiously allowed those two states to move forward in implementing their new recreational pot markets, while warning that it will react swiftly if the drug finds its way across state lines or into the hands of minors.

“We’re going to see what happens in the experiments in Colorado and Washington,” Obama said.  The DEA takes an opposing view.

“The Department of Justice, you know, under Eric Holder, has said that we are going to continue to enforce federal laws.  But in those states, we recognize that we don’t have… the resources to police whether somebody is smoking a joint on a corner.  And we are trying to provide them structures to make sure that, you know, big time drug traffickers, the spillover effect of the violence, potentially, of a drug trade are not creeping out of this experiment.”

Obama has admitted to his own drug use as a student in his memoir, Dreams From My Father, writing of using marijuana and “maybe a little blow.”

“But I do offer a cautionary note,” Obama said.

“…Those who think legalization is a panacea, I think they have to ask themselves some tough questions, too, because if we start having a situation where big corporations with a lot of resources and distribution and marketing arms are suddenly going out there peddling marijuana, then the levels of abuse that may take place are going to be higher.”

* * * * * * * *

 

(Via Google News/YouTube/Family Guy)

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An Open Letter to George Bush

 

Telling the Real Story of the Bush Presidency

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

By Ralph Nader
Nader.org

 

January 2, 2014

George W. Bush
George W. Bush Presidential Center
PO Box 560887
Dallas, Texas, 57356

Dear Mr. Bush: 

A few days ago I received a personalized letter from your Presidential Center which included a solicitation card for donations that actually provided words for my reply.

They included “I’m honored to help tell the story of the Bush Presidency” and “I’m thrilled that the Bush Institute is advancing timeless principles and practical solutions to the challenges facing our world.”  (Below were categories of “tax-deductible contributions” starting with $25 and going upward.)

Did you mean the “timeless principles” that drove you and Mr. Cheney to invade the country of Iraq which, contrary to your fabrications, deceptions and cover-ups, never threatened the United States? Nor could Iraq– under its dictator and his dilapidated military– threaten its far more powerful neighbors, even if the Iraqi regime wanted to do so.

Today, Iraq (roughly the size and population of Texas) remains a country you destroyed, a country where over a million Iraqis, including many children and infants (remember Fallujah?) lost their lives, millions more were sickened or injured, and millions more were forced to become refugees, including most of the Iraqi Christians.

Iraq is a country rife with sectarian strife that your prolonged invasion provoked into what is now open warfare. Iraq is a country where al-Qaeda is spreading with explosions taking 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 lives per day.  Just this week, it was reported that the U.S. has sent Hellfire air-to-ground missiles to Iraq’s air force to be used against encampments of “the country’s branch of al-Qaeda.”

There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before your invasion.  Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were mortal enemies.

The Bush/Cheney sociocide of Iraq, together with the loss of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers’ lives, countless injuries and illnesses, registers, with the passage of time, no recognition by you that you did anything wrong nor have you accepted responsibility for the illegality of your military actions without a Congressional declaration of war.

You even turned your back on Iraqis who worked with U.S. military occupation forces as drivers, translators etc. at great risk to themselves and their families and were desperately requesting visas to the U.S., often with the backing of U.S. military personnel.  Your administration allowed fewer Iraqis into the U.S. than did Sweden in that same period and far, far fewer than Vietnamese refugees coming to the U.S. during the nineteen seventies.

When you were a candidate, I called you a corporation running for the Presidency masquerading as a human being.  In time you turned a metaphor into a reality.  As a corporation, you express no remorse, no shame, no compassion and a resistance to admit anything other than that you have done nothing wrong.

Day after day Iraqis, including children, continue to die or suffer terribly.  When the paraplegic, U.S. army veteran, Tomas Young, wrote you last year seeking some kind of recognition that many things went horribly criminal for many American soldiers and Iraqis, you did not deign to reply, as you did not deign to reply to Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son, Casey, in Iraq.

As you said, “the interesting thing about being the president” is that you “don’t feel like [you] owe anybody an explanation.”  As a former President, nothing has changed as you make very lucrative speeches before business groups and, remarkably, ask Americans for money to support your “continued work in public service.”

Pollsters have said that they believe a majority of Iraqis would say that life today is worse for them than under the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.  

They would also say George W. Bush left Iraq worse off than when he entered it, despite the U.S. led sanctions prior to 2003 that took so many lives of Iraqi children and damaged the health of so many civilian families.

Your national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, said publically in 2012 that while “the arc of history” may well turn out better for post-invasion Iraq than the present day violent chaos, she did “take personal responsibility” for the casualties and the wreckage.  

Do you?

Can you, at the very least, publically urge the federal government to admit more civilian Iraqis, who served in the U.S. military occupation, to this country to escape the retaliation that has been visited on their similarly-situated colleagues? Isn’t that the minimum you can do to very slightly lessen the multiple, massive blowbacks that your reckless military policies have caused?  

It was your own anti-terrorism White House adviser, Richard Clarke, who wrote in his book, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, soon after leaving his post, that the U.S. played right into Osama bin Laden’s hands by invading Iraq.

Are you privately pondering what your invasion of Iraq did to the Iraqis and American military families, the economy and to the spread of al-Qaeda attacks in numerous countries?

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader

 

P.S. I am enclosing as a contribution in kind to your presidential center library the book Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions by Clyde Prestowitz (2003) whom I’m sure you know.  Note the positive remark on the back cover by General Wesley Clark.

 

(Article by Ralph Nader via his website Nader.org)

* * * * * * * * *

“There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.”

~Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is one of America’s most effective social critics.  Named by The Atlantic as one of the 100 most influential figures in American history and by Time and Life magazines as one of the hundred most influential Americans of the twentieth century, his documented criticism of government and industry has had widespread effect on public awareness and bureaucratic power.

His inspiration and example have galvanized a whole population of consumer advocates, citizen activists, and public interest lawyers who in turn have established their own organizations throughout the country.

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Posted in National, Opinion0 Comments

Biotech Giants Sue Kauai for Restricting GMOs and Pesticides

 

Bullying the Hawaiian Islands into Sickness and Submission

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

 

The “big dogs” in chemical agriculture are on a witch hunt to reverse a bill passed by the Kauai County Council in November to set reasonable restrictions on the cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the Hawaiian island.

According to the Huffington Post, an unholy trinity represented by DuPont, Syngenta and Agrigenetics Inc. (an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences) have filed a federal lawsuit arguing against Measure 2491, which is intended to set buffer zones between schools and fields sprayed with pesticide.  It also requires companies to disclose when and where they are spraying their poisonous concoctions as well as report genetically modified crops.

As it currently stands in Kauai, chemical companies have very few restrictions on where they are allowed to plant GM crops and how often they are allowed to spray undisclosed chemicals on fields.

Because of this, many areas of the island have become toxic hotbeds with local residents reporting allergies, neurological damage and other major afflictions stemming from exposure to GMOs and crop chemicals, issues addressed by Measure 2491.

The biotechnology industry is fighting tooth and nail to destroy Measure 2491, which would expose the massive environmental damage being caused by the industry’s activities on the otherwise
pristine island.

According to reports, the chemical industry is claiming Measure 2491 is unconstitutional because it interferes with state and federal laws governing GMO cultivation, a desperate attempt by Big Biotech to thwart public transparency of its operations.  The chemical companies don’t want the public to know what chemicals they’re spraying.

“They chose to use their money and legal power to bully us in court,” stated Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-introduced the bill.  ”These companies do not want our county to set a democratic precedent that other communities are going to follow.”

The irony of the industry claiming that its rights are somehow being violated by Measure 2491, set to take effect in August, is that these same chemical companies have never had to prove the safety of their chemical solutions to regulators.  Instead, they have repeatedly been allowed to violate the rights of the very public they are now suing by their indiscriminate use of proprietary and undisclosed chemicals.

“We do not know and cannot properly research and evaluate these impacts because the companies will not tell us what chemicals they are using,” added Hooser.  “Instead, they choose to ignore the decision of our local community and take us to court.”

Since its announcement, the lawsuit has generated a groundswell of support from outside organizations in support of Kauai and Measure 2491.  Over 4000 nurses in Hawaii supported passage of the bill, as well as most of the doctors and nurses on Kauai    Multiple law firms and various environmental lawyers have already offered to fight the triple lawsuit pro bono– or free of charge.

“You’ve got three very big corporations all ganging up to bring this lawsuit,” noted Paul Achitoff, an attorney at Earthjustice, an organization supportive of Measure 2491.  ”If it costs them a little more money to beef up their security rather than using secrecy, that’s what they need to do.”

If successful in their endeavor, DuPont, Syngenta and Agrigenetics Inc. will have Measure 2491 declared invalid under the constitutions of both the U.S. and Hawaii, as well as have their legal fees for filing the lawsuit reimbursed by the small Hawaiian county.

A scheduling conference for the lawsuit is set for April 14 in the U.S. District Court in Honolulu, according to the Huffington Post.

 

 

 

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com

http://online.wsj.com

http://www.naturalnews.com

http://science.naturalnews.com

 

(Via Natural News, Huffington Post, YouTube, and Roseanne Barr)

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Posted in Environment, National1 Comment

Bloggers Get First Amendment Protections in Defamation Lawsuits

 

Appeals Court:  Bloggers Akin to Trained Journalists Under U.S. Constitution

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an important ruling in a case that centers squarely upon the rights of
bloggers sued for defamatory blog posts.

With salacious gossip about celebrities and other public officials increasingly being traded on the Internet, the appellate court focused on whether bloggers can hold the First Amendment up as a defense to the same extent as trained journalists.

In a defamation case against Crystal Cox, a district court judge said they couldn’t.  On Friday, the appeals court rejected that assessment.

In a blog post, Cox accused Obsidian Finance Group and its co-founder Kevin Padrick of committing tax fraud while administering the assets of a company in a Chapter 11 reorganization.  At trial, a jury awarded the plaintiffs a total of $2.5 million over false assertions.

Before the case got to trial, however, Cox pointed to landmark judicial opinions, including New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, to make the argument that because the blog post involved a matter of public concern, the plaintiffs had the burden of proving her negligence in order to recover for defamation.  Alternatively, she asserted that Padrick and Obsidian were public figures, and as such, they needed to show she acted with “actual malice.”

The trial judge responded that she had failed to submit “evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist.”

The decision set off a firestorm of concern through Internet quarters and finally reached the 9th Circuit for opinion Friday.

In the ruling (read here), 9th Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz writes that while there is a paucity of rulings in his appellate circuit examining the First Amendment and defamation in the age of blogging, there are a host of other big rulings, including Citizens United v. FEC as well as rulings from other circuits, that clearly reject the notion that the institutional press has exclusive First Amendment advantages that individual speakers don’t.

“We agree with our sister circuits,” writes the judge.

“The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, or went beyond just assembling others’ writings or tried to get both sides of a story. …”

“In defamation cases, the public-figure status of a plaintiff and the public importance of the statement at issue– not the identity of the speaker– provide the First Amendment touchstones.”

The judge goes on to say that the blog post was a matter of public concern, though the plaintiffs were not public officials.  As such, the case is remanded for a new trial that will focus on whether Cox was negligent in what she wrote.

* * * * * * * *

To note, the modern blog is much closer to the definition of journalism when the Constitution was passed than the large corporate media of today.

 

 

(Via Undernews)

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Posted in Media, National0 Comments

Texas Tea and Wildcat Oil

 

Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale Play Making Crude Millionaires Overnight

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

 

THREE RIVERS, Texas– Not long ago, Richard Dockery was a real estate and insurance broker in this town of 1,800 residents, putting together small land deals and cobbling together a nest egg for retirement.

Today, Dockery, 47, lives in a new, 2,400-square-foot home that he bought with cash and will have his 23-year-old daughter’s medical school bills covered before she steps into her first classroom.

Once a month, a six-figure check in his name arrives in his mailbox from an energy company — royalties earned by leasing his property to oil companies and co-owning wells.  It’s one of several that appear in his box each month that, added up, equal roughly the annual salary of a midlevel NBA player.

“It’s crazy,” Dockery says.  ”And I’m small fry. There are literally thousands of people out here who are millionaires, and some who are going to be billionaires.  It’s the wild, wild West.”

Dockery and this small city, 75 miles south of San Antonio, are at the epicenter of one of the biggest oil booms ever to hit Texas — and possibly the USA.  A vast oil and gas reservoir in South Texas known as the Eagle Ford Shale, along with another in West Texas known as the Permian Basin, is driving the boom and could make Texas one of the leading oil producers on the planet.

Advanced drilling technology, such as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling are unlocking huge reservoirs of oil previously deemed impossible to reach, doubling the state’s crude oil production the past two years.

This year, Texas is projected to produce more than 3 million barrels a day — moving it ahead of Kuwait, Mexico and Iraq to become the eighth-largest oil producer in the world.

The U.S. still imports far more oil than it exports, due in part to a law restricting crude oil exports.  Last year, the U.S. imported about 7.5 million barrels a day, while exporting only about 100,000 barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  The exports ban, dating to the Arab oil embargo of 1973, is now being challenged by lobbyists and lawmakers because of the huge amounts of oil being produced, primarily in Texas and North Dakota.

Energy companies are likely to invest more than $100 billion in Texas in the next few years to extract oil from the shales.  In 2011 alone, the boom created more than 38,000 jobs in South Texas and poured more than $500 million into local and state coffers.

It’s not just oil companies and counties profiting.  Ranch owners who previously had only scrub bush and white-tailed deer on their property are leasing their land for millions of dollars a month.  Schoolteachers lucky enough to have oil beneath their yards have left their jobs to travel the world or open boutiques.  Small-town real estate brokers, like Dockery, have become overnight millionaires by selling plots of land that once sold for $2,000 an acre for 100 times that much.

This is the latest in a string of Texas oil booms — and perhaps one of the biggest — since Anthony Lucas punched a hole in Spindletop Hill near Beaumont in 1901, thrusting the country into the modern petroleum era.  The Spindletop discovery and another one in East Texas in the 1930s at the time made Texas the largest producer of oil in the world. This one is far bigger.

“It’s as significant as the discovery of oil itself,” says David Arrington, a Midland, Texas, oil executive who made nearly $900 million plumbing for natural gas in North Texas eight years ago.  Today, he’s investing “every penny of it” in the Permian Basin.

 

Boom Brings Headaches

But for every story of overnight riches, there are tales of the boom’s potentially negative impact:  overpowering chemical smells near wells;  residents waking up in the middle of the night with headaches or nosebleeds;  threats to drinking aquifers;  roads banged up by oil trucks and spikes in traffic fatalities;  soaring rents; and even earthquakes.

“It’s brought money to people overnight,” Three Rivers Mayor Sam Garcia says of the boom.  ”But it has its own set of challenges.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” where water, sand and other materials are injected into underground rock formations at high speeds to free pockets of fossil fuels, and horizontal drilling have been used for years, mostly to harvest natural gas.  But oil’s high price, hovering at around $100 a barrel, has given energy companies unprecedented financial resources to put the technology to work for crude.

Today, more than 7,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled or are scheduled to be drilled along the Eagle Ford Shale, a crescent-shaped formation 4,000 feet underground that stretches 400 miles along the Texas-Mexico border.  The technology used in South Texas could soon migrate to similar shales around the world, unlocking billions of gallons of more crude and buying valuable time to develop alternative energy sources, Tinker says.

Just how much crude is down there? That’s been a point of hot debate in the industry.

Given the current rate of extraction and number of wells, the shale could produce for another five to 10 years, then become mostly dry, says Arthur Berman, a Sugarland-based petroleum engineer and shale skeptic.  The technology that reached the tucked-away crude is also sucking it out at record speeds, he says.

“We’ve been given a gift, a reprieve, from where we thought we were a few years ago,” Berman says. “But that reprieve is a short one.”

 

Dancing Sugar Plum Fairies and Dollar Signs

In the meantime, wildcatters, residents and ranchers of South Texas are cashing in.

When the oilmen came calling, David Martin Phillip, a former mining executive and cattle rancher in Karnes City, refused to let them drill on his ranch.  Instead, he leased them his mineral rights that allowed them to drill on neighboring ranches and reach the oil beneath his property horizontally, he says.

Using royalties from that transaction, Phillip, 64, recently bought a restaurant and two local radio stations, which he plans to use to broadcast oil news.

Down the road in Three Rivers, 18-wheelers and tractor-trailers rumble through town, hauling sand or enormous engine parts to drilling pads.  West of town, Texas Highway 72, once lined with acre after acre of scrub bush, today is populated with oil supply companies, RV parks and “man-camps” housing oilmen, and drilling wells alighted with gas flares stretching to the horizon.

Dockery, the real estate broker, says he sniffed out the rush in 2009 when out-of-town researchers began showing up in the local courthouse, looking up property titles.  He quickly started buying land he thought would be useful to oil companies.  Developers built two man-camps on one of his lots and an oil company drilled a water well for a fracking pond on another of his properties, for which he gets monthly royalties.  Dockery used money from those ventures to buy a stake in four wells.

The monthly royalties — “mailbox money,” he calls it — started pouring in.

“I was this sleepy broker in this small town,” Dockery says.  ”Then, all of a sudden, the world drops a bomb on us, and we explode.”

Tax revenues from the oilfields have built Three Rivers a new high school and state-of-the-art football field.  Four new hotels sprouted up in town and four more are in the works.

But the army of workers and supply trucks are also taking a toll on the small town, Mayor Garcia says.  Traffic accidents are now a daily occurrence.

The city’s 10-man police force is struggling to keep up with traffic calls, break-ins and an influx of prostitutes from San Antonio looking to strike up business with the new residents, he says.  Another concern:  oil companies tapping out the city’s water supply.  “Water’s a big issue right now,” Garcia says.  ”It’s as valuable as the oil.”

Water is a top concern amid all the drilling of the Eagle Ford Shale, especially in a state still weathering a historic drought, says Scott Anderson, an Austin-based senior policy adviser with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Each well uses between 3 million and 7 million gallons of water, and then workers dispose of the wastewater — known as “flowback” — in disposal wells, he says.  There is a risk of contaminating drinking aquifers if the disposal wells are not made or maintained properly, Anderson says.

 

The Highs and Lows of Drilling

The oil wells also burn off natural gas that bubbles up during the drilling, he says.  That flaring and other venting at the wells release harmful chemicals into the air, including carbon dioxide, methane and ozone.  

San Antonio, located on the northern ridge of the shale, has recorded higher-than-normal ozone levels in its air since the start of the drilling, Anderson says.

“Anytime you have large amounts of flaring, it’s a good bet there’s a large amount of venting going on, too,” he says.  ”Then you’re releasing methane and other potent greenhouse gasses.”

Cynthia Dupnik, 55, lives in a double-wide mobile home on 25 acres of land in Karnes County, in the heart of the drilling.  Often, she and her daughter, Michelle, 34, wake up in the middle of the night with headaches, body aches and nosebleeds, she says.  Since the oil companies began drilling less than a mile from her home, she says, there have also been overpowering rotten egg and chemical smells, especially at night.

She has tried to bring up the issues with the energy companies involved in the drilling, but to no avail, she says.  She’s not against the drilling; she just wants the smells and headaches to stop, she says.  ”There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything they’re doing out here,” Dupnik says.  ”This is not the right way.”

Already, state lawmakers have tightened rules surrounding the drilling, including more disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking and extensive new rules on well-making, says Bill Stevens, a spokesman
with the Texas Energy Alliance. 

“Is it perfect?  No,” Stevens says. “But the industry is doing a lot.”

The bigger question is what to do when the oil stops flowing.  Once the shale is tapped, there won’t be other reservoirs to siphon — the end of the line for fossil fuels in Texas, says Berman, the geologist and shale skeptic.  ”We’re drilling shale not because it’s a good idea but because we’ve exhausted all other good opportunities,” he says.

“It’s all we got left.  When this is done, we’re done,” Berman added.

Unlike some of his fellow residents, Dockery says he realizes this boom will end someday and South Texas will return to the quiet life of ranching and hunting.  Accordingly, he’s investing much of his money in long-term projects that will generate revenue beyond oilfields, he says, such as developing a software program that allows online property title searches.

“People are fooling themselves that this will last forever.  Nothing lasts forever,” he says.

“But in the interim, it’s pretty damn good.”

* * * * * * * * *

 

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(Via Google News/CBS News/YouTube)

Posted in Environment, Features, National0 Comments

Obama Orders Tighter Restrictions on NSA Data Collection

 

President Calls for Overhaul of Domestic Surveillance

(VIDEO CLIP:  GOOD WILL HUNTING)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

 

President Obama called for significant changes to the way the National Security Agency collects and uses telephone records of U.S. citizens today, moving to transition away from government control of the information and immediately requiring authorities to obtain a court order to get access to it.

After more than six months of controversy over U.S. surveillance policies, Obama said that– barring a specific threat– he has ordered an end to eavesdropping on dozens of foreign leaders and governments who are friends or allies, a move the White Hope hopes will restore trust in the intelligence community and in the government’s ability to balance national security and privacy interests.

In a speech at the Justice Department, the president said the NSA’s data-collection program remains a critical tool for U.S. intelligence agencies to root out and prevent terrorist activities.  He made clear that he has not seen any indication of abuse in the NSA phone program, but said he recognizes the potential for abuse and is asking for reforms aimed at those concerns.

While the president did not say the program would end, he did say the information collected would no longer be held by the NSA.  He did not offer his own plan for where the phone records should be moved to and will instead call on the attorney general and members of the intelligence community to recommend a transfer point by March 28– which is when the collection program comes up for re-
authorization.

As part of his directive, the president also announced tighter restrictions on spying on international leaders.  He said that ‘dozens’ of foreign leaders would be safe from NSA surveillance techniques but did not offer that protection to their advisors.

He also said the government could no longer request data beyond two people from the terrorist target.

Obama insisted the U.S. doesn’t indiscriminately snoop on people who pose no threat and doesn’t use NSA records as a tool to suppress dissent or provide advantage for certain U.S. companies.

Obama said the new directive he issued Friday “will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do.”  He said the United States would use intelligence only “for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the e-mails or phone calls of ordinary people.”  

The United States, he added, will not “collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent” or to give U.S. companies a competitive advantage.

As he made the case for reforms, Obama also cautioned that “we cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies.”  And he caustically criticized foreign intelligence services that “feign surprise” over disclosures of U.S. surveillance while “constantly probing our government and private sector networks and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, intercept our e-mails or compromise our systems.”

 “Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation, while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for,” Obama concluded.

The president’s speech comes after months of revelations about the breadth and secrecy of the NSA’s surveillance activities, based on hundreds of thousands of documents stolen by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.  

U.S. officials have said Snowden stole up to 1.7 million documents, many of which he has turned over to reporters.  New revelations based on the document are expected to continue this year.

The White House has sought to tamp down concerns from foreign leaders, privacy and civil liberties activists, and the tech industry about the NSA’s activities.  The NSA’s collection of data on virtually all Americans’ phone records is part of a program that has generated perhaps more controversy than any other since it was disclosed in June.

Intelligence officials have said the program is a critical tool in their efforts to prevent attacks on the United States.  Some analysts have argued that, although a review panel appointed by the White House recommended that the NSA shift control of phone data to phone companies or a private third party, it found no violation of the law by the agency.

To civil liberties groups and privacy advocates, disclosures about the NSA have revealed a government that has leveraged new technologies to reach further into Americans’ privacy than ever before.  Many are hoping that whatever changes Obama announces will be more than cosmetic.

“We’re looking to the president to make very bold statements about reclaiming privacy,” said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

The NSA’s harvesting of phone data began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was placed under court supervision in 2006.  The program collects metadata, or phone numbers dialed and call lengths and times, but not call content.  Analysts are supposed to access the data only for the purpose of seeking leads in counterterrorism investigations.

The program’s disclosure in June marked the start of a string of revelations about U.S. surveillance policies, most of them based on leaks from Snowden.

An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted in November found that nearly 70 percent of respondents said the NSA’s surveillance of telephone call records and Internet traffic intrudes on some Americans’ privacy rights.

 

(Via Yahoo/Google News/YouTube)

Posted in National0 Comments

Why Workers in Red States Vote Against Their Economic Self-Interest

 

The Fear Conundrum

 

Robert Reich
RobertReich.org

 

LAST WEEK’s massive spill of the toxic chemical MCHM into West Virginia’s Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic
insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes.  

Not only are employees eager to accept whatever job they can get.  
They are also unwilling to demand healthy and safe environments. 

The spill was the region’s third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as “Chemical Valley,” and repeated recommendations from federal regulators and environmental advocates that the state embrace tougher rules to better safeguard chemicals.

No action was ever taken.  State and local officials turned a deaf ear.  The storage tank that leaked, owned by Freedom Industries, hadn’t been inspected for decades.

But nobody complained.

Not even now, with the toxins moving down river toward Cincinnati, can the residents of Charleston and the surrounding area be sure their drinking water is safe– partly because the government’s calculation for safe levels is based on a single study by the manufacturer of the toxic chemical, which was never published, and partly because the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies the drinking water, is a for-profit corporation that may not want to highlight any lingering danger. 

So why wasn’t more done to prevent this, and why isn’t there more of any outcry even now?

The answer isn’t hard to find.  As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen’s group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia’s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, explained to the New York Times:  “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.”

Exactly.

I often heard the same refrain when I headed the U.S. Department of Labor.  When we sought to impose a large fine on the Bridgestone-Firestone Tire Company for flagrantly disregarding workplace safety rules and causing workers at one of its plants in Oklahoma to be maimed and killed, for example, the community was solidly behind us– that is, until Bridgestone-Firestone threatened to close the plant if we didn’t back down.

The threat was enough to ignite a storm of opposition to the proposed penalty from the very workers and families we were trying to protect.  (We didn’t back down and Bridgestone-Firestone didn’t carry out its threat, but the political fallout was intense.)

For years political scientists have wondered why so many working class and poor citizens of so-called “red” states vote against their economic self-interest.  The usual explanation is that, for these voters, economic issues are trumped by social and cultural issues like guns, abortion, and race.

I’m not so sure.  The wages of production workers have been dropping for thirty years, adjusted for inflation, and their economic security has disappeared.  Companies can and do shut down, sometimes literally overnight.  A smaller share of working-age Americans hold jobs today than at any time in more than three decades.

People are so desperate for jobs they don’t want to rock the boat.  They don’t want rules and regulations enforced that might cost them their livelihoods.  For them, a job is precious– sometimes even more precious than a safe workplace or safe drinking water.

This is especially true in poorer regions of the country like West Virginia and through much of the South and rural America– so-called “red” states where the old working class has been voting Republican.  Guns, abortion, and race are part of the explanation.  But don’t overlook economic anxieties that translate into a willingness to vote for whatever it is that industry wants.

This may explain why Republican officials who have been casting their votes against unions, against expanding Medicaid, against raising the minimum wage, against extended unemployment insurance, and against jobs bills that would put people to work, continue to be elected and re-elected.  

They obviously have the support of corporate patrons who want to keep unemployment high and workers insecure because a pliant working class helps their bottom lines.

But they also, paradoxically, get the votes of many workers who are clinging so desperately to their jobs that they’re afraid of change and too cowed to make a ruckus. 

The best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility is a strong and growing middle class.  But in order to summon the political will to achieve it, we have to overcome the timidity that flows from economic desperation.  

It’s a diabolical chicken-and-egg conundrum at the core of American politics today.

 

 

* * * * * * * * *

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.

Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

His new film, “Inequality for All,” is now available on iTunes, DVD, and On Demand.

 

We thank Dr. Reich for allowing us to reprint his column here for our readers. 

Dr. Reich frequently writes about  the interesting crossroads of economics, politics, and ethics.  Where they collide and conflict, history shows economics is always the victor.

Posted in Media, National2 Comments

The Kangaroo Court Called ‘Arbitration’

 

Mandatory Arbitration Can Be Consumer’s Worst Nightmare

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Carolyn Said
SF Gate

 

The Arbitration System

Mandatory arbitration can be a remedy with treacherous costs, unreviewable results, and lacking any requirement that resolution follows legal precedent.

What is it:  Arbitration is a private alternative to the courts system, provided by for-profit companies.

Who Uses It:  Arbitration clauses are embedded in many consumer deals, including purchase contracts and employment agreements.

What’s the Issue:  Consumer advocates want arbitration firms to provide scorecards on case decisions. The firms say they provide information on each individual arbitrator.

 

Silvi Rider thought she was buying a brand-new Honda Accord.  With interest and the trade-in of her used car, it cost her more than $35,000.

But she was stunned to discover that the car, which had 385 miles on the odometer, had previously been owned – meaning it was worth a lot less than she paid.

The dealer wouldn’t unwind the deal, so she tried to sue.  

Her purchase agreement required arbitration– a private alternative to the courts that proponents say is faster, cheaper and more flexible.  Others say it raises concerns about fairness, even as it becomes pervasive in consumer transactions.

The arbitrator ruled against Rider, who said she lost thousands of dollars on the deal.

“This was clear-cut fraud,” Rider said.  ”I went in thinking I would have a trial, when it’s really like a kangaroo court.  Arbitration is bought and paid for by the other side.”

When you buy a product, get a credit card, visit the doctor or start a new job, often you agree to binding arbitration if a dispute arises, giving up the right to a day in court.  Once mainly for business squabbles, arbitration clauses have become ubiquitous in the fine print for all sorts of consumer transactions.

Now consumer advocates and a California legislator are pressuring arbitration companies to provide more information about how often they side with consumers or corporations.

“These guys are almost totally under the radar, working without any public oversight or regulations,” said Kevin Baker, deputy chief counsel for the Assembly Judiciary Committee.  ”Nobody knows the number of arbitrations being conducted, or how they are decided.  There are more rules about who can be a plumber or a massage therapist than an arbitrator or an arbitration company.”

In fact, a decade-old California law already requires arbitration companies to post data on their cases online.  

The problem is that many don’t do it.  A UC Hastings study found that only half post any data, and it’s short of what’s required.

“They are flouting the law,” said Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who has proposed a bill, AB802, that would allow lawsuits against arbitration firms that don’t post case outcomes.  ”We’re not trying to get into whether arbitration companies are good or bad– just give us the data so we can check.”

 

Industry’s Response

The arbitration industry said the proposed legislation would be overkill because it’s only some small companies that fail to post their results.

“The vast majority of California consumer arbitrations, about 95 percent, are done by JAMS (formerly Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services), the American Arbitration Association or Kaiser’s independent administrator, and all of these organizations comply with the disclosure law,” said Donne Brownsey, a lobbyist for the California arbitration industry.

“JAMS is compliant with California’s consumer arbitration disclosure requirements,” the organization’s general counsel, John Walsh, said in a statement.

Consumer advocates say arbitration raises red flags.  Corporations pick and pay for arbitrators, which lets them stack the deck by selecting those who are friendly to their interests, they charge.

But arbitration supporters say the companies are more like service bureaus that provide lists of arbitrators and space for the meetings.  Details on individual arbitrators, including past cases and potential conflicts of interest, are disclosed, they said.  While corporations often pick the arbitration firm, both parties in a dispute select the individual arbitrator, said Jennifer Barrera, policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce.

“A lot of safeguards are already in place, especially in California,” she said.

Another consumer beef:  While many arbitrators are lawyers or retired judges, there is no requirement for them to have legal training, to follow legal precedents, to consider evidence– or even to issue written decisions.

“Arbitrators are perfectly free to ignore the law,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a Sacramento advocacy group.

Barrera disputed that characterization. “It’s an efficient alternative with the same rights and remedies afforded in the court system,” she said.

 

Investigation Urged

Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety was among seven advocacy groups, including the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action, Private Rights Clearinghouse and Consumers Union, that recently wrote to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, urging her to investigate private arbitration companies.

“Forced arbitration has become a shield against any accountability, undermining our nation’s system of justice and denying the public access to the courts,” the letter said.

“We received the letter and are reviewing it,” said Nicholas Pacilio, a spokesman for Harris.

Those who fear that “unscrupulous arbitration companies (might) gain an unfair advantage over their law-abiding competitors” by skewing results to favor businesses, as the letter puts it, point to a notorious case.

 

Ties to Collection Firms

The National Arbitration Forum was forced to exit consumer arbitrations in 2009 after lawsuits by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the Minnesota attorney general uncovered that it was partly owned by a hedge fund that also owned a debt-collection company that used it.  The National Arbitration Forum pitched potential corporate clients, mainly credit-card companies, saying it would help them improve their debt collection rates, Herrera charged.  

His suit disclosed that of 18,075 California cases the forum handled from 2003 through 2007, only 30 were won by consumers.

Mel Dorin, a U.S. customs and border protection officer at San Francisco International Airport, said he tried to buy a new Chevy Volt from four California dealers, which each required that he sign a contract with an arbitration clause.  He refused because he considers arbitration to be consumer unfriendly, and each dealer declined to sell him the car.

“I felt like I was living in a scene from ‘The Godfather,” he said. He plans to do whatever he can to keep his current car, which has 150,000 miles, running.

For Rider, a single mother who does medical billing work, losing her mediation case was devastating, she said.  Her lawyer told her to stop payments, and the car was repossessed with her personal property inside.  She couldn’t get to work.  She has since moved in with her mother in San Mateo and bought an older Buick, bartering for some of the cost because she was so cash-strapped.

“I’m grateful to have wheels to get to work,” she said.

 

Seeking Details

California law already requires arbitration data, but not all companies comply.

Number of arbitration companies in California:  26

Number posting data:  11

Number with links that didn’t lead to data:  3

Number with no data: 12

“Among the firms that publish reports, important information is often missing,” including amount of claim, employee’s salary range and repeat customers, according to a UC Hastings report.  ”It is often difficult to understand the outcome of cases from the reports.”

Sources: UC Hastings College of the Law, Public Law Research Institute

(Via Yahoo News/Carolyn Said/SF Gate)

* * * * * * * * *

 

Posted in Media, National1 Comment

1964: The Year America Lost It

 

KEET-TV at 8 p.m Tonight:  How the 60′s Started

(VIDEO)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Do you remember 1964? 

You ought to.  It was a defining year of change for America.

It was the year that “led to the letting loose of everything,” Rolling Stone Publisher Jann Wenner says in the PBS documentary American Experience: 1964, airing tonight on KEET-TV and other PBS stations nationwide at 8 p.m.

The year that began less than two months after the killing of the president saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act; the arrival of the Beatles on U.S. soil; the murders of three civil-rights workers in Mississippi; the birth of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley; the escalation of the Vietnam conflict; and Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater offering “a choice, not an echo” campaign as he was nominated for president.

Cassius Clay defied the 7-1 odds against him to defeat Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight title, then became Muhammad Ali; Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello flirted, sang and danced in Bikini Beach; Ford introduced the Mustang; Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway; and a huge see-through globe called the Unisphere dominated the World’s Fair, constructed atop a former swamp and garbage dump in the New York borough of Queens.

The PBS documentary is an American Experience offering, and, given how eventful the 1960s were, it’s
logical to expect a 50th-anniversary.

If you’re older or younger than the baby-boom generation, you might be tempted to dismiss all of the attention paid to the 1960s as overblown, but 1964 is nonetheless authoritative and convincing.  It makes its case that the year saw big events and big change, but, by skillfully drawing the line between that year and the present, 1964 shows us that we are still feeling the effects of those events 50 years later.

Based in part on the Jon Margolis book The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964, the PBS film was written and directed by Stephen Ives, and actually begins in 1963 in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. The nation was hopeful but wary as the new year began, and so was its new president.

Lyndon B. Johnson set out to earn legitimacy by pursuing an ambitious agenda that included passing the Civil Rights Act proposed by John F. Kennedy; declaring an “unconditional war on poverty” in his first State of the Union address; and, in May, vowing to build a Great Society by eliminating discrimination and fostering economic parity for all.

The civil rights bill was not only one of LBJ’s greatest accomplishments, but, as one observer says, “It created a new America.”

In the wake of the new law, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other groups established a program to send college kids to Mississippi to help get African Americans registered to vote.  It was planned as Freedom Summer, but it was forever marked with tragedy after the slaying of three civil rights workers.

The repercussions from Freedom Summer seeded the protest movement that rocked American college campuses for the rest of the decade.  The young men and women who went to Mississippi– many of them white suburban college kids– came back angry from the experience of seeing racially inspired brutality and prejudice firsthand.  When they left the South, they brought their anger with them, as well as impatience with the status quo.

The prevailing thought is that the 1960s were what they were in reaction to everything that the ’50s were not.  Historian Stephanie Coontz recalls her mother telling her she felt wrong because she wasn’t totally happy, despite fulfilling all the societal expectations for women in the ’50s.

It was, as Betty Friedan wrote in “The Feminine Mystique,” “the problem that has no name.”  Women were expected to find happiness by consuming, one observer notes.

In so many ways, the ’60s were all about challenging societal expectations for several segments of the population.

As “1964″ makes clear, this was a time of extraordinary prosperity, which is one of the reasons that suburban kids could afford to hitchhike around the country, wear their hair long, go off to college.  They, too, were saying no to expectations.

Suburban, mostly white, middle-class kids were finding that the world wasn’t quite as perfect as their parents had led them to believe.  They rebelled in their own ways.  Many became anti-establishment activists; others found means of expression in culture.

The ascendance of the Beatles in with the hit single “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” was followed by the group’s first U.S. appearance in 1963.  Young men began letting their hair grow.  It may seem quaint today, but American households were regularly disrupted by arguments between parents and sons about hair length.

The day after winning the heavyweight title, a more subdued, grounded Cassius Clay faced the press, who asked whether he was studying Islam.  When he became Muhammad Ali, he called his former name “a slave name.”

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” he said, and that statement could apply to African Americans all over the country, to white middle-class students with their floppy haircuts and to the demonstrators at UC Berkeley.

Come 1964, the counterculture and revolution in about race, politics, war, equality, clothing, music, drugs, formalities and schooling was underway.  Conservatives denounced the decade as one of irresponsible excess, flamboyance, and the decay of social order.

In many ways, the ’60s were all about challenging societal expectations for several segments of the population.  The driving declaration that echoed through the rest of the decade was first and most eloquently uttered in 1964. 

 

Catch it tonight:  1964: An “American Experience” documentary.  8 p.m. Tuesday on PBS—KEET TV

 

 

(Via PBS-org, Columbus Dispatch, and Dave Weigand/SFGate)

Posted in Local, National0 Comments

Gallup Poll: Democrats and Republicans Are Both Minor Party

 

Record High 42% of Americans Identify as Independents

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has
measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone
25 years ago.

Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest
level over that time span.

At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last
four years, but down from 36% in 2008.

 

From the recently released Gallup Poll survey:

 

PRINCETON, NJ — In each of the last three years, at least 40% of Americans have identified as independents.  These are also the only years in Gallup’s records that the percentage of independents has reached that level.

Americans’ increasing shift to independent status has come more at the expense of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party.

Republican identification peaked at 34% in 2004, the year George W. Bush won a second term in office.  

Since then, it has fallen nine percentage points, with most of that decline coming during Bush’s troubled second term. When he left office, Republican identification was down to 28%.  It has declined or stagnated since then, improving only slightly to 29% in 2010, the year Republicans “shellacked” Democrats in the midterm elections.

Not since 1983, when Gallup was still conducting interviews face to face, has a lower percentage of Americans, 24%, identified as Republicans than is the case now.  That year, President Ronald Reagan remained unpopular as the economy struggled to emerge from recession.  By the following year, amid an improving economy and re-election for the increasingly popular incumbent president, Republican identification jumped to 30%, a level generally maintained until 2007.

Democratic identification has also declined in recent years, falling five points from its recent high of 36% in 2008, the year President Barack Obama was elected.  The current 31% of Americans identifying as Democrats matches the lowest annual average in the last 25 years.

 

Fourth Quarter Surge in Independence

The percentage of Americans identifying as independents grew over the course of 2013, surging to 46% in the fourth quarter.  That coincided with the partial government shutdown in October and the problematic rollout of major provisions of the healthcare law, commonly known as “Obamacare.”

The 46% independent identification in the fourth quarter is a full three percentage points higher than Gallup has measured in any quarter during its telephone polling era.

 

Democrats Maintain Edge in Party Identification

Democrats maintain their six-point edge in party identification when independents’ “partisan leanings” are taken into account.

In addition to the 31% of Americans who identify as Democrats, another 16% initially say they are independents but when probed say they lean to the Democratic Party.  An equivalent percentage, 16%, say they are independent but lean to the Republican Party, on top of the 25% of Americans identifying as Republicans.  

All told, then, 47% of Americans identify as Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, and 41% identify as Republicans or lean to the Republican Party.

Democrats have held at least a nominal advantage on this measure of party affiliation in all but three years since Gallup began asking the “partisan lean” follow-up in 1991.  During this time, Democrats’ advantage has been as high as 12 points, in 2008.  However, that lead virtually disappeared by 2010, although Democrats have re-established an edge in the last two years.

 

Implications

Americans are increasingly declaring independence from the political parties.

It is not uncommon for the percentage of independents to rise in a non-election year, as 2013 was.  Still, the general trend in recent years, including the 2012 election year, has been toward greater percentages of Americans identifying with neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party, although most still admit to leaning toward one of the parties.

The rise in political independence is likely an outgrowth of Americans’ record or near-record negative views of the two major U.S. parties,
of Congress, and their low level of trust in government more generally.

The increased independence adds a greater level of unpredictability to this year’s congressional midterm elections.

Because U.S. voters are less anchored to the parties than ever before, it’s not clear what kind of appeals may be most effective to winning votes.  

But with Americans increasingly eschewing party labels for themselves, candidates who are less closely aligned to their party or its prevailing doctrine may benefit.

 

(Via Gallup Poll/Gallup Politics by Jeffry M. Jones)

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Posted in National, Politics0 Comments

Stealing J. Edgar Hoover’s Secrets

 

 

The Greatest Heist You Never Heard Of Until Now–

Burglars Who Took on FBI Abandon Shadows

(New York Times Video)

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

One night in 1971, files were stolen from an F.B.I. office near Philadelphia. 
They proved that the bureau was spying on thousands of Americans.
The case was unsolved, until now.

 

From The New York Times, by Mark Mazzetti:

PHILADELPHIA, PA — The perfect crime is far easier to pull off when nobody is watching.

So on a night nearly 43 years ago, while Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier bludgeoned each other over 15 rounds in a televised title bout viewed by millions around the world, burglars took a lock pick and a crowbar and broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in a suburb of Philadelphia, making off with nearly every document inside.

They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the F.B.I. against dissident groups.

The burglary in Media, Pa., on March 8, 1971, is a historical echo today, as disclosures by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden have cast another unflattering light on government spying and opened a national debate about the proper limits of government surveillance.

Why They Did It

The burglars had, until now, maintained a vow of silence about their roles in the operation.  They were content in knowing that their actions had dealt the first significant blow to an institution that had amassed enormous power and prestige during J. Edgar Hoover’s lengthy tenure as director.

“When you talked to people outside the movement about what the F.B.I. was doing, nobody wanted to believe it,” said one of the burglars, Keith Forsyth, who is finally going public about his involvement.  “There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting.”

Mr. Forsyth, now 63, and other members of the group can no longer be prosecuted for what happened that night, and they agreed to be interviewed before the release this week of a book written by one of the first journalists to receive the stolen documents.  

The author, Betty Medsger, a former reporter for The Washington Post, spent years sifting through the F.B.I.’s voluminous case file on the episode and persuaded five of the eight men and women who participated in the break-in to end their silence.

…Ms. Medsger’s article cited what was perhaps the most damning document from the cache, a 1970 memorandum that offered a glimpse into Hoover’s obsession with snuffing out dissent.  The document urged agents to step up their interviews of antiwar activists and members of dissident student groups.

“It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an F.B.I. agent behind every mailbox,” the message from F.B.I. headquarters said.  Another document, signed by Hoover himself, revealed widespread F.B.I. surveillance of black student groups on college campuses.

But the document that would have the biggest impact on reining in the F.B.I.’s domestic spying activities was an internal routing slip, dated 1968, bearing a mysterious word:  Cointelpro.

Unlike Mr. Snowden, who downloaded hundreds of thousands of digital N.S.A. files onto computer hard drives, the Media burglars did their work the 20th-century way: they cased the F.B.I. office for months, wore gloves as they packed the papers into suitcases, and loaded the suitcases into getaway cars.

When the operation was over, they dispersed.  Some remained committed to antiwar causes, while others, like John and Bonnie Raines (seen in the above picture and to the right), decided that the risky burglary would be their final act of protest against the Vietnam War and other government actions before they moved on with their lives.

“We didn’t need attention, because we had done what needed to be done,” said Mr. Raines, 80, who had, with his wife, arranged for family members to raise the couple’s three children if they
were sent to prison.

“The ’60s were over. We didn’t have to hold on to what we did back then.”

A Meticulous Plan

The burglary was the idea of William C. Davidon, a professor of physics at Haverford College and a fixture of antiwar protests in Philadelphia, a city that by the early 1970s had become a white-hot center of the peace movement.  Mr. Davidon was frustrated that years of organized demonstrations seemed to have had little impact.

In the summer of 1970, months after President Richard M. Nixon announced the United States’ invasion of Cambodia, Mr. Davidon began assembling a team from a group of activists whose commitment and discretion he had come to trust.

The group — originally nine, before one member dropped out — concluded that it would be too risky to try to break into the F.B.I. office in downtown Philadelphia, where security was tight.  They soon settled on the bureau’s satellite office in Media, in an apartment building across the street from the county courthouse.

That decision carried its own risks:  Nobody could be certain whether the satellite office would have any documents about the F.B.I.’s surveillance of war protesters, or whether a security alarm would trip as soon as the burglars opened the door.

The group spent months casing the building, driving past it at all times of the night and memorizing the routines of its residents…

 

…An excerpt, you can read the rest of this surprisingly interesting article by Mark Mazetti in the New York Times here.

Posted in Crime, Media, National2 Comments

Recreational Pot Industry Legally Opens for Business in Colorado

 

Rocky Mountain High

 

Skippy Massey
Humboldt Sentinel

 

DENVER, Co.– They lined up before dawn and in the snow on Wednesday, baby boomers from Nebraska, retirees from Denver and a young man who had driven all
day from Ohio.

They were among the hundreds of tourists and residents across Colorado who eagerly took part in the country’s first-ever sales of state-regulated recreational marijuana.  They walked into 40 shops, from downtown Denver to snowy ski resorts, flashed their identifications and, in a single transaction, took part in what supporters hailed as a historic departure from drug laws focused on punishment and prohibition.

“It makes you giddy to say it: I went into a store and bought pot,” Linda Walmsley said as she walked out of the Denver Kush Club, where a line of shivering customers stretched down the block.

While about 20 states allow medical marijuana, voters in Colorado and Washington State decided last year to go one step further, becoming the first in the nation to legalize small amounts of the plant for recreational use and regulate it like alcohol.  

Colorado began promptly on New Year’s Day.

To supporters, it was a watershed moment in the country’s tangled relationship with the drug.  They said it was akin to the end of Prohibition, albeit with joints being passed instead of champagne being uncorked.

To skeptics, it represented a grand folly that they predicted would tarnish the image of a state whose official song is John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and lead to higher teenage drug use and more impaired driving.  

The governor and the Denver mayor both opposed legalization and stayed away from the celebrations and inaugural sales on Wednesday.

Regulators said Colorado’s first sales — on a day called Green Wednesday by enthusiasts– went smoothly. Security guards were stationed outside dispensaries, and police officers and state officials watched closely.

Skeptical federal authorities are also paying attention.  Although marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Justice Department has given tentative approval for Colorado and Washington to move ahead with regulating marijuana.  But it warned that federal officials could intervene if the state regulations failed to keep the drug away from children, drug cartels or federal property, and out of other states.

On Wednesday, Colorado had eight investigators out checking retailers’ licenses, inspecting packaging and labeling, and ensuring that stores reviewed customers’ identification to see if they were 21 or older, said Ron Kammerzell, the director of enforcement for Colorado’s Department of Revenue.

“So far, so good,” he said.

Ever since voters in Colorado and Washington approved recreational marijuana last year, the states have been racing to
devise rules on how to grow it, sell it, tax it and track it.

In both Colorado and Washington, recreational marijuana has been legal for more than a year.  Adults can smoke it in their living rooms and eat marijuana-laced cookies without fear of arrest.  In Colorado, they are even allowed to grow up to six plants at home.  But until Wednesday, marijuana dispensaries could sell only to customers with a doctor’s recommendation and a state-issued medical marijuana card.

Many people who lined up on Wednesday said they did not have medical cards, and had relied on drug dealers or friends with medical marijuana to satisfy their cravings.  They were paying high prices for new recreational marijuana — $50 to $60 for an eighth of an ounce, nearly double the price of medical marijuana — but said it was worthwhile to avoid the risk.

“People don’t like breaking the law,” said Andy Williams, who runs the Medicine Man dispensary in an industrial park in Denver.  “The burden has been taken off them.”

Now, any Colorado resident who is at least 21 can buy up to an ounce of marijuana at one of the dispensaries that began selling to retail customers on Wednesday.  Out-of-state visitors can buy a quarter-ounce, but they have to consume it here.  

Carrying marijuana across state lines remains illegal, and the plant is not allowed at Denver International Airport.

On Wednesday, some tourists puzzled over where they would consume their purchases.  It is illegal to smoke marijuana in public, in public parks or in campgrounds, and it is against the rules at many hotels. One group from Nebraska said it would find a parking lot and roll up the car windows.  Others said they would return to their hotels and crack the windows.  Some bought marijuana-laced baked goods to avoid the problem altogether.

Kirstin Knouse, 24, flew here from Chicago with her husband, Tristan, to take her first marijuana vacation, and she said the couple would smoke their marijuana at the home of a cousin.  She said that she suffered from seizures and fibromyalgia, and her husband from post-traumatic stress, but that they had not been able to get medical marijuana at home.  When Colorado opened sales to out-of-state residents, she said they leapt at the chance.

“This is our dream,” Ms. Knouse said.  “We’re thinking about moving here because of it.”

Washington’s marijuana system is at least several months behind Colorado’s, meaning that fully stocked retail shelves probably will not be a reality for consumers until perhaps June.

While Colorado has incorporated the existing medical marijuana system, Washington is starting from scratch, with all production and sale of legal recreational marijuana linked to a new system of licenses, which will not
be issued until late February or early March.

“After that, it is up to the industry to get it up and running,” said Mikhail Carpenter, a spokesman for the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which regulates the system and is reviewing almost 5,000 license applications to grow, process or sell marijuana.

Growers can start a crop only after they get a license, Mr. Carpenter said, and retailers can sell only marijuana produced in the state by licensed growers.

What happens next in both states will be watched closely by Arizona, Alaska, California, Oregon and other states flirting with the idea of liberalizing their marijuana laws.  Questions still abound.  Will drug traffickers take marijuana across state lines, to sell elsewhere?  Will recreational marijuana flow from the hands of legal adult consumers to teenagers?  Will taxes from marijuana sales match optimistic predictions of a windfall for state budgets?  What will happen to the black market for marijuana?

But on Wednesday, enthusiasts like Darren Austin, 44, and his son, Tyler, 21, just embraced the moment.  They arrived a few months ago from Georgia and North Carolina, respectively, and decided to stay.  

The father said marijuana eased his anxiety and helped him quit drinking, and the son said he simply liked smoking it with friends.  On Wednesday, they slept in their truck outside a dispensary, to ensure their place in line.

“We wanted to be here,” Darren Austin said. “It’s historic.”

(By Kirk Johnsen via Google News)

* * * * * * * * *

Bob Dylan was right.  The times they are a changin’. 
Sigh.

 

 

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