Friday, September 19, 2014

Pro-Pot Group Giving Free Weed to Colorado Vets

Pro-Pot Group Giving Free Weed to Colorado Vets

Pro-Pot Group Giving Free Weed to Colorado Vets

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:52 AM PDT

Marijuana-smoking veterans may find themselves flocking to Denver, Colorado Saturday, when a pro-pot organization will host a weed giveaway to get grass in the hands of military veterans who seek it.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Quality Inn in Central Denver, the group Grow4Vets will give out cannabis products worth more than $200 to veterans who RSVP for the event by noon Friday. Others will be asked for a $20 donation at the door and get more than $100 in pot products in exchange, organizers told ABC7 News Denver.

Grow4Vets exists to “reduce the staggering number of Veterans who die each day from suicide and prescription drug overdose” by providing vets “with the knowledge and resources necessary to obtain or grow their own marijuana for treatment of their medical conditions,” the group’s website says.

A repeat of the event will be held September 27 in Colorado Springs.

Joe Biden’s Gaffe-Ridden Week

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:44 AM PDT

Speaking at the Democratic Women’s Leadership Forum, Vice President Joe Biden on Friday praised former Sen. Bob Packwood, who resigned in 1995 after 19 women accused him of sexual harassment and assault.

Err, awkward!

“It was Republicans that expanded access to the polls. It was Republicans in the judiciary committee that did motor voter,” Biden said in arguing that the GOP has moved to the political fringe. “It’s Republicans that were involved. Guys like Mack Mathias and [Bob] Packwood and many others. It wasn’t Democrats alone.”

Biden’s remarks capped a rough week. On Wednesday, he called lenders of bad loans to people serving in the military “Shylocks,” a derogatory name for Jews, earning him a rebuke form the Anti-Defamation League. Also, this week, Biden referred to the First Prime Minister of Singapore as “the Wisest Man in the Orient,” an antiquated word deemed offensive by many Asians. And at an event in Iowa, Biden seemed to leave the door open for ground troops in Iraq to fight the militant group ISIS, a day after President Barack Obama specifically rejected such an option.

Of course, Biden has long history of gaffes, but as Vice President he’s generally reined in his verbosity.

But five in a week is a lot, even for him. Perhaps impending lame-duckdom is loosening his tongue.

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:34 AM PDT

(ALBANY, Ga.) — The head of a peanut company that distributed salmonella-tainted peanuts that sickened hundreds of people across the U.S. four years ago has been convicted of conspiracy and other charges.

Former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell was found guilty Thursday during a federal trial in Albany, Ga.

Parnell, his brother, Michael Parnell, and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson had been on trial since Aug.1 on federal charges stemming from a salmonella outbreak five years ago that sickened 714 and was linked to nine deaths.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: Space Case

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:30 AM PDT

Time was, billionaires had no shortage of bling to buy—a yacht here, a Learjet there, a professional football team if you happen to have your Sundays free. But that’s all so yesterday. The must-have, 21st-century toy for the man with real cash to burn is fast becoming a spanking new spacecraft company.

That’s the way is seems at least, with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and, most enigmatically of all,’s Jeff Bezos and his double super-secret, my-lips-are-sealed Blue Origin. While the other boys are anything but press shy, Bezos has kept his operation under a comparative cone of silence. The company is based in Kent, Washington, and while it doesn’t have any actual spaceships yet, it does have a website, some cool graphics and a very nifty coat of arms featuring what appear to be two turtles holding a shield with the Earth below them, the cosmos above and the motto Gradatim Ferociter (by degrees, ferociously) inscribed beneath. Really.

The last few days have been big ones for Bezos, however, with the announcement on Sept. 17 that he was partnering with United Launch Alliance (ULA)—itself a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing—to produce a new engine for ULA’s workhorse Atlas V booster. Currently, ULA uses a Russian-made RD-180 engine in the first stage of the Atlas. That became both politically and logistically untenable last spring, after Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, Western sanctions against Moscow and an announcement from Russia that it would tighten sales of the engine in retaliation.

So it’s good news that ULA is swapping out its hardware, but huge news—at least judging by the media response—that the universe’s biggest bookseller is part of the deal. The Washington Post—which is owned by . . . oh, let me check my notes. Ah yes, Jeff Bezos—declared the news “a historic partnership between ‘Old Space’ and ‘New Space.’” Bloomberg News and Businessweek, noting the bad blood that has long existed between Musk and Bezos in the race for the high ground, declared it a “battle of the billionaires” and even ran a madcap little graphic showing the two lads jousting on the backs of cartoon rockets, because why not?

But let’s sweep away the packing peanuts and see what’s really inside this latest shipping box. First of all, this may be a Musk-Bezos cage match, but if so, Bezos really should have been part of the undercard. It is a not inconsequential fact that he has yet to fire so much as a push pin into space, while Musk’s SpaceX is already flying satellite payloads for paying customers and is about to make its fourth unmanned cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Bezos has been talking for a while about taking paying tourists to suborbital space—a dream Branson is chasing too—but he is vague about when this will happen and shows no signs at all of having the wherewithal to do it.

Then too there was the timing of his big announcement, which occurred on the very day that NASA announced the companies it had chosen—after a years-long competition—to take over the business of flying astronauts to the ISS. The two winners were Boeing and, yes, Musk. It’s true that nobody knew exactly the day or time that NASA would be revealing its picks, but everybody in the space world did know it was coming sometime in mid-September. Bezos may or may not have intended to spit in the other guys’ soup, but that’s what he wound up doing.

In fairness to Bezos, the engine he is developing, dubbed the BE4 (for Blue Engine), sounds like a real gem. Most rocket engines run on a combination of liquid oxygen and a fuel known as RP1—which sounds a little less nifty when you realize it stands simply for Rocket Propellant 1, and a lot less nifty when you realize that means kerosene. Bezos plans to replace that with far cleaner liquefied natural gas. He also makes the very good point that most of the engines flying today (excluding Musk’s) were designed in the 50s, 60s and 70s and it really is time to bring 21st century materials and computer models into the mix. One BE4 could produce 550,000 lbs. (250,000 kg) of thrust. That’s less than a Russian RD-180 and much more that Musk’s Merlin. But engines are routinely bundled—Musk’s biggest working booster has 9 Merlins and NASA’s historic Saturn V moon rocket had five massive F-1 engines—so thrust is by no means a deal-breaker.

But the thing is, the F-1’s were real, as is the Merlin and as is the RD-180. The BE4, like so much in the space billionaire’s toy box, is either vaporware or hardware that has yet to actually do anything. Bezos and ULA do promise their engine will be flying by 2018—unless, of course, it’s not.

That uncertainty is the biggest message that guys who fancy themselves Masters of the Universe (albeit on Earth) have to learn. Space travel is hard—exceedingly, often lethally hard. You can’t negotiate with physics or bully orbital mechanics. You can’t delete gravity’s Buy button. Elon Musk—so far—is making a real go of things, while Branson and Allen haven’t gotten close to their dream of bringing passengers to space. The rest are just dreamers until proven otherwise. It’s not business, fellas, it’s science.

China Fines GlaxoSmithKline $485 Million for Bribery

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:18 AM PDT

After a one-day secret trial, a Chinese court has fined pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) $489 million for bribing hospitals and doctors to use their products.

According to the New York Times, the court also sentenced GSK’s former country manager Mark Reilly as well as four additional managers to prison time of up to four years. However, the sentences were suspended, and the managers will avoid prison with good behavior–though Reilly must leave the country. The is the largest ever corporate fine in China, reports the Wall Street Journal, though some analysts had expected the fine to be even higher.

GSK issued a statement of apology, writing:

GSK fully accepts the facts and evidence of the investigation, and the verdict of the Chinese judicial authorities. Furthermore, GSK sincerely apologizes to the Chinese patients, doctors and hospitals, and to the Chinese Government and the Chinese people. GSK deeply regrets the damage caused. GSK plc also apologizes for the harm caused to individuals who were illegally investigated by GSKCI [GSK China Investment Co. Ltd].

You can read GSK’s full apology here.

GSK says they fully cooperated with the authorities and are reducing and changing the nature of their activities with health professionals, as well as growing the process the company uses to monitor payments and invoices. “We will also continue to invest directly in the country to support the government’s health care reform agenda and long-term plans for economic growth,” said GSK CEO, Sir Andrew Witty in a statement. The fine will come from existing cash resources, the company says.

According to IBISWorld Global Pharmaceuticals analyst Sarah Turk, GSK’s 3% market share in the global pharmaceuticals and medicine manufacturing industry will likely drop over the next five years, and the fine will significantly hinder the company’s research and development funding, thus increasing its competition with global companies like Pfizer and Novartis.

“As [GSK] seeks new investment opportunities in the coming years, the $489 million fine will limit the company’s leverage to acquire other companies and remain competitive in an industry that is increasingly looking for methods to harness new drug development pipelines,” writes Turk in an emailed statement. “Additionally, other pharmaceutical companies will likely tread carefully in the Chinese market, due to GSK’s fine possibly indicating that Chinese regulators are increasingly cracking down on corporate malpractice.”

This is not the first time GSK has been fined significantly for wrongdoing. In July 2012, the U.S. State Department fined the company $3 billion for marketing drugs for unapproved uses.

Hillary Clinton Pledges to Campaign for Female Democratic Candidates

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:14 AM PDT

Hillary Clinton plunged back into the political waters Friday by pledging to work to get all the female Democratic candidates on the ballot elected in November.

“I can’t think of a better way to make the House work again than electing every woman on the ballot,” Clinton told the Democratic Women’s Leadership Forum, a group she helped start more than 20 years ago with former Second Lady Tipper Gore. “There are 10 women running for the Senate, six women running for governor and I wish I could vote for all of them.”

Clinton called out several candidates by name: Senate challengers Michelle Nunn in Georgia, Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and West Virginia’s Natalie Tennant, incumbent Sens. Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and House candidate Staci Appel in Iowa.

The former Secretary of State particularly tout former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke, who is challenging Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “Burke she is offering a choice between more angry gridlock,” Clinton said, “and… smart progressive policies.”

Clinton said she wanted to see a movement of women rise up to take back the government. “We’re in the home stretch and it all comes down on who shows up to vote,” she told the crowd of female Democratic organizers, many of whom will be relied on to turn out female voters in November. “This country will maintain a level playing field so whether you’re the grandchild of a president, or the grandchild of a janitor, whether you were born in a city or a small rural village, no matter who you are you have the right to inherit the American dream.”

Iggy Azalea Has J. Lo’s Back In Twerk-Filled “Booty” Video

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:11 AM PDT

Have you heard? It’s the year of the rear. Yep — after Miley Cyrus delivered her twerk-filled performance with Robin Thicke at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, the booty-shaking bar was set, and accordingly, 2014 has seen rump-filled videos and performances from everyone from Lily Allen to Amber Rose to Helen Mirren to even Billy Ray Cyrus. Hey, even Taylor Swift got in on the action in her “Shake It Off” video.

Then came Nicki Minaj’s racy “Anaconda” vid, filled with derrieres from here to there with Drake in between. The barely SFW video zipped across the internet, setting a Vevo record for the most views in 24 hours as fans (and adolescent boys) rushed to watch the provocative jungle-twerk clip.

While “Anaconda” may have established Minaj as the queen of the twerking scene, it was a transient victory. Now, Jennifer Lopez has entered the ring to reclaim the title. J. Lo just released the aptly-named track “Booty” featuring Hot 100 It Girl Iggy Azalea. The video lives up to its title, featuring Lopez and Azalea clad in black and white swimsuits and provocatively shaking what their mamas gave them, dripping with oil. Your move, Destiny’s Child.

How a Kansas Republican Is Trying to Win By Losing

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:07 AM PDT

At first blush, it might seem strange that the Republican Secretary of State in Kansas is going to the mattresses in a seemingly hopeless fight to force Democrats to put a candidate on the ballot for the U.S. Senate.

But Kris Kobach is no ordinary secretary of state. Whip-smart (degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Yale), movie-star handsome (and a national champion rower), he is a darling of the far-right wing of the GOP, best known as the legal mastermind of the anti-illegal immigration movement.

No one doubts that Kobach, 48, has ambitions far beyond Topeka. He is a frequent speaker at conservative gatherings around the country, and racks up further frequent flyer miles as a consultant to state lawmakers who want help in writing tough restrictions on undocumented workers. His 2004 bid for Congress ended in defeat at the hands of then-incumbent Rep. Dennis Moore—but losing your first campaign says nothing about future prospects. Ask Barack Obama.

The question in Kansas is whether Kobach is helping or hurting himself with his crusade, which started when the Democratic nominee for Senate, Chad Taylor, announced that he was dropping out of the race against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

Taylor’s decision—encouraged by Democratic Party leaders in Kansas and around the country—was a calculated move to boost the chances of independent candidate Greg Orman. Polls have indicated that Roberts is vulnerable. But to beat him, the anti-Roberts voters would have to unite behind one candidate, for Kansas has elected only Republicans to the U.S. Senate since 1932.

Kobach answered by refusing to drop Taylor’s name from the ballot. Then, after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Taylor has met the requirements to leave the race, Kobach doubled down. He has ordered Kansas Democrats to nominate another candidate—an order that the Democrats are almost certainly going to ignore.

Some keen observers of Kansas politics are perplexed by Kobach’s increasingly quixotic stand. “In a lot of ways it doesn’t make any sense,” says University of Kansas political science professor Burdett “Bird” Loomis. “He’s very ambitious, yet the more he carries on here, the more likely he is to lose his own re-election bid, given the perception of his partisanship in an office that’s historically been nonpartisan.”

Perhaps Kobach has squeezed everything he hoped to get out of the office of secretary of state. The tough voter ID law that he championed sailed through the conservative Kansas legislature and survived a challenge in federal district court. In August, Kobach defended the law before a panel of appeals court judges.

By risking his reelection chances in defense of an embattled Republican—with control of the Senate potentially at stake—Kobach furthers marks himself as a stalwart lone ranger in the mold of the filibustering senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Like them, Kobach “really likes to get into it,” Loomis says, “and may believe that any publicity, long-term, is good publicity” for a politician seeking a higher national profile. At a time when much of the GOP base—and much of the conservative media—puts a higher value on combat than on victory, it pays to be pugnacious.

In other words, Kobach may be trying to win by losing.

Ferguson Needs More Black Business Owners and City Leaders

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:06 AM PDT

For most of my life, the mayor of my hometown—Fairburn, Georgia—was Betty Hannah, a white woman. But since Fairburn is about 20 miles outside of Atlanta, that seemed bound to change eventually: Black residents like my mother and I could always look down the road to a major American capital that has, for more than a generation, been run by a black mayor, district attorney, police chief, and city council. In 2009, the year I turned 31, Mario Avery was elected Fairburn’s first black mayor.

Ferguson, Mo., too, is a town with a history of white-only governance, and in close proximity to a place where black residents do have political power: Country Club Hills, a city with a black mayor, black police chief and predominantly black city council. And so, while I reported on the Michael Brown shooting and unrest in Ferguson this summer, I wondered how a place that looked so similar to my hometown could be so different – how the black people who make up a majority of the city of Ferguson could wield so little power.

The story of how Fairburn managed to take similar historical ingredients and cook up an entirely different future could hold lessons for Ferguson – and all of the other towns like it across the country.

Like Ferguson, my hometown started as a train stop in the 1800s. Both towns are about 70 percent black and 30 percent white, according to the most recent Census data. The majority of residents (more than 80 percent) are high school graduates, and nearly one-quarter are college educated. At least 60 percent are homeowners.

But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the numbers that seem key to the modern power asymmetries that exist among black residents in Ferguson, and yet not in Fairburn.

Fairburn is faring better economically. The median income in my hometown is about $13,000 higher, and the home values are about $47,000 higher. Unemployment in Ferguson is about seven points higher than in Fairburn (14.3 percent to 7.4 percent).

Population changes may also be key to the divergence of these stories: Fairburn has had a population explosion in the past decade – swelling from about 5,400 residents in 2000 to nearly 13,700 today, bringing new voices to the conversation. Ferguson’s population, which has hovered at around 21,000, has actually dipped slightly in recent years.

Another statistic that sticks out: Seventy-four percent of businesses in Fairburn are black-owned, according to the most recent Census; Ferguson had no such data available. (I did notice that a lot of the looting that occurred during the protests in Ferguson happened to stores that were not black-owned, and that black-owned businesses in that area proclaimed their status in spray paint on plywood boards covering their windows.)

That three of four businesses in Fairburn are black-owned was not always the case. But as the population grew and demographics shifted, those who came into my hometown took ownership of their community – including as entrepreneurs.

Having a financial stake in a town beyond homeownership creates a sense of investment in a community—and a can catalyze civic engagement.

It seems logical, then, that Fairburn’s voters are also more engaged in city elections. Last November, 34 percent of the city’s registered voters showed up, despite having an uncontested mayoral race. That’s more than three times the turnout in Ferguson’s last city elections in April 2013 (11 percent).

But perhaps this summer’s shooting served as a wakeup call for black residents in Ferguson. For many of them, oppression has become a way of life. As I interviewed the residents of Ferguson, I noticed that many had stories of regular police harassment, or being jailed for days or weeks for what seemed to be minor infractions. I was struck by how routine their stories were, and how casually they recounted them.

I simply could not imagine such a thing being accepted as commonplace in Fairburn.

So, what happened here? What made the people in my hometown seize their civic responsibility and forge a dramatically different future?

For those questions, I turned to Mayor Avery. He suggested that Fairburn’s population explosion and geography played a big role: The influx of new Fairburn residents were determined to replicate the changes they saw in neighboring cities. And Fairburn’s proximity to Atlanta, the seat of the civil rights movement, is a powerful motivator. Because Fairburn sits in the shadow of that legacy, it is entwined and influenced by that history in a way that Ferguson may not be.

And yet, Avery said he would be surprised if the situation in Ferguson doesn’t spark change in that community. A wake-up call can work just as well as a population explosion.

“I’d be totally amazed if, when the dust settles, the people don’t start demanding services and representation from people who are serious about making things happen,” Avery said. “People are going to start asking, ‘What is the city doing to show that we’re trying to make progress?’ You’re a city that nobody knew a year ago. You become a target when you become visible.”

Before I left, I saw signs that Ferguson could be ready to change. The sustained peaceful protests by many who lived in the community showed a commitment to addressing some of the issues raised by Brown’s death: the low voter turnout and absence of black candidates on the municipal ballot; the lack of black police officers patrolling their community; the need for more local jobs and job training programs for the city’s young people.

Some Ferguson residents have said they are encouraged by the Department of Justice’s involvement in the Brown investigation and the announcement of an additional federal probe into policing practices in Ferguson, a move affirmed by the city’s leaders. National support can go a long way towards sustaining momentum.

As I left Ferguson in late August, I learned that city leaders had to postpone their council meeting, citing “increased interest from residents wishing to attend,” to give the city time to find a bigger venue. The meeting, held a month after Michael Brown’s death, was standing-room only and a parade of angry and frustrated residents took their leaders to task for three hours.

Sometimes, the first step towards change is taking a look at a person – or place – where that change has become possible. In Fairburn, many of the important people in my childhood world had black faces. Like my favorite librarian—a black man who, along with my mother, encouraged my love for books. I was in fourth grade when I had my first black teacher.

These things matter because they allow a group to understand what is possible for them. The fate of Fairburn is still possible for the people of Ferguson.

Errin Whack is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about culture and politics. She also serves as Vice President of Print for the National Association of Black Journalists. This article originally appeared on The Weekly Wonk.

Rangel: It’s Time for a War Tax and a Reinstated Draft

Posted: 19 Sep 2014 10:02 AM PDT

While I am optimistic about our Commander-in-Chief’s strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, I voted against the Continuing Appropriations Resolution 2015 that would grant the President the authority to provide funds to train and arm Syrian rebels against the enemy. I opposed the amendment because I strongly believe amassing additional debt to go to war should involve all of America debating the matter. That is why I have called for levying a war tax in addition to bringing back the military draft. Both the war surcharge and conscription will give everyone in America a real stake in any decision on going to war, and compel the public to think twice before they make a commitment to send their loved ones into harm’s way.

As a Korean War veteran, I know the plight of war. Our military is the best in the world, but war is unpredictable and chaotic. In the event that the conflict in Iraq and Syria necessitates American troops on the ground, everyone should share the sacrifices instead of the small few who are already carrying that burden.

For a decade I have been calling for the reinstatement of the draft because our military personnel and their families bear a tremendous cost each time we send them to fight. Since 2001, nearly 7,000 soldiers have paid for these wars with their lives. More than 52,000 have been wounded, many narrowly saved by the miracle of modern medicine. The 3.3 million military households have become a virtual military class who are unfairly shouldering the brunt of war. Many men and women in uniform serve multiple tours, as many as 10, and 25 percent of America’s active duty military personnel suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is unacceptable that on average 22 veterans die by suicide every day. If war is truly necessary, we should all come together in defense of our nation, not just one percent of America.

In addition to the significant number of precious lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have accumulated too much debt to finance these wars. The United States has borrowed almost $2 trillion to fund our military engagements on foreign soil. It is estimated that the total cost would be close to $6 trillion; we continue to pay a heavy toll for these conflicts. Each dollar spent on war is a dollar not spent on education, energy, housing, or healthcare. We cannot afford to tread this same path when we are slashing domestic programs that are the lifelines for so many Americans. I will soon introduce a bill that will impose war tax to ensure that we do not have to choose between further gutting the social safety net and adding to the $17.7 trillion of national debt.

I continue to believe that under President Obama’s leadership, the international community will rid itself of this cancer. Secretary of State John Kerry has reported that nearly 30 countries have stepped up to support the fight against ISIS. These countries intend to provide financial resources, intelligence, equipment and training. Furthermore, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated that their government also does not want President Barack Obama to send American ground troops to fight in Iraq. Nevertheless we must be prepared for the worst.

ISIS militants are a real threat. They have already killed two American journalists and thousands of Syrians and Iraqis in their brutal attempt to establish an Islamic caliphate. If left unchecked, they can jeopardize our core interests abroad and at home. We must share the burden in diminishing their impact to our national security. Containing their spread will help America and our allies to feel safe whether at home or abroad. Reinstating the draft and imposing the war tax will ensure that our safety is sustainable, our financial engagements abroad are not borrowed, and that all Americans have a role in defending and protecting our nation.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) is a combat veteran and former Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.


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