Congress Next To Legalize Marijuana?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘MOTHER JONES’)

 

Three States Passed Marijuana Legalization Measures Tuesday. Congress Might Finally Be Next.

Say goodbye to weed’s biggest opponent on the Hill.

bubaone/Getty

During a House Rules Committee debate in January, the chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), was blunt. “I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” Sessions said while members argued over an amendment that would protect states with legal cannabis from federal interference. “Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.”

While mostly false—marijuana has been shown to be mildly addictive, but many patients rely on it as a medicine to treat chronic pain and other ailments—it was a pretty typical statement from the congressman. Having served more than two decades in the House, Sessions had become a powerful, if not the most influential, opponent of marijuana on the Hill, halting dozens of measures related to legalization. But on Tuesday, he lost, and lost pretty big—by more than 6 points—to his Democratic challenger, civil rights attorney Colin Allred, to represent Texas’ 32nd District.

In addition to losing Pete Sessions, Washington rid itself of the other Sessions last week—now-former Attorney General Jeff Sessions (no relation)—and with that, two of the biggest roadblocks to legalizing marijuana are finally gone, boosted by a blue wave that took the House and, in turn, created a more friendly environment for marijuana. Now, advocates are planning their attack.

With Democrats in control of the House, “the debate we’re going to have is not should we legalize, but how we’ll legalize marijuana,” an optimistic Michael Collins, interim director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, tells Mother Jones. “We’re closer than we’ve ever been.”

Already, 33 states have medical marijuana laws on the books, 10 allow adult recreational cannabis use, and 66 percent of the country supports legalizing marijuana, according to an October Gallup poll, including more than half of Republicans.

“Marijuana law reform is not a ‘red’ or ‘blue’ issue, it is a nonpartisan position favored by most Americans, including those residing in the heartland of America,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of marijuana advocacy group NORML, tells Mother Jones.

Even still, Congress has failed to pass any meaningful marijuana legislation in the past few years, and in the House, that was in large part due to Rep. Sessions. In a blog post on Election Day, NORML political director Justin Strekal called Sessions the “single greatest impediment” in the chamber to the passage of “common-sense, voter-supported marijuana law reform measures.” According to analysis by Tom Angell at Marijuana Moment, a cannabis news site, the House Rules Committee has blocked marijuana law reform proposals in at least 34 instances just in this congressional session, which began January 2017. During his career as rules committee chair, beginning in 2013, Sessions thwarted amendments that would have expanded research on medical marijuana, allowed Native American tribes to participate in the cannabis industry, and enabled the federal government to tax marijuana sales, among other proposals, according to Angell.

“[Sessions] made it clear from day one of his House tenure that no marijuana amendments would be heard on the House floor,” Armentano says. “He kept that promise.”

Another key marijuana opponent, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), is also retiringin January. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte controlled the fate of bills relating to criminal justice. He blocked severalpieces of cannabis legislation during his tenure, including the 2018 STATES Act, which would have officially protected states with marijuana laws from federal punishment, and was supported by President Donald Trump. (The president has actually voiced support for states’ right to regulate cannabis independently.)

Replacing this old guard will be more than two dozen cannabis-friendly candidates who won their races, including Allred. “I support the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to the habit-forming opioids that have become a national crisis,” Allred told Politico in March. “This common-sense approach to alternative treatments has been opposed by Pete Sessions, and is something I will fight to expand.” In Virginia’s 6th District, Goodlatte will be succeeded by Republican Ben Cline, who has sponsored and passed progressive marijuana legislation in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Advocates say they are eager to work with these members to pass any and all legislation they can. Some of their biggest goals include securing access to marijuana for veterans, allowing banks to accept money from state-legal cannabis businesses, and de-scheduling weed from its Schedule 1 status (the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy), Armentano says.

“We’ve taken out a big opponent of marijuana and the House has flipped,” Collins adds. “There’s a world of possibilities out there for marijuana reform.”

And with Attorney General Sessions out, advocates are hopeful Trump’s new appointee will recognize where the public stands on marijuana and be open to the possibility of reform. “Sessions, no doubt about it, was a disaster on drug policy,” says Collins. “[He had] very regressive positions on marijuana legalization, sentencing, and the opioid epidemic, and we’re glad to see the back of him.”

Boosting advocates’ hopes even further, Election Day saw plenty of other victories for marijuana. Michigan approved recreational cannabis, while Missouri and Utah—both red states—passed ballot measures that will legalize medical marijuana. (Though, as I recently wrote, Utah lawmakers and backers of the ballot measure, under rather unique circumstances, agreed to pass a “compromise” bill ahead of the election no matter the outcome of the vote.) And in Florida, voters passed Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to up to 1.4 million disenfranchised felons in the state, including tens of thousands convicted of marijuana-related offenses, according to NORML.

Of course, there are still plenty hurdles left to jump—the Senate and White House are still under Republican control, and there’s nothing to indicate a new attorney general will actually be more friendly to legalization—but advocates again emphasize that cannabis legalization isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a partisan issue, especially because Trump has supported states making their own decisions about weed.

But either way, advocates are doing their best to ensure that opposing legalization isn’t a winning strategy. “Opposition on this issue—you’re on the wrong side of history,” Collins says. “There’s a train coming in your direction, and it’s best to get on board.”

“This year, it really, really is the most important contest in decades,”writes David Corn. Nothing less than American democracy is on the ballot. See the full list of our election stories here.

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Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

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The Many Mysteries of Brett Kavanaugh’s Finances

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘MOTHER JONES’)

 

The Many Mysteries of Brett Kavanaugh’s Finances

Who made the down payment on his house? How did he come up with $92,000 in country club fees?

President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, listens to a question during the third round of questioning on the third day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Before President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he had a lot of debt. In May 2017, he reported owing between $60,004 and $200,000 on three credit cards and a loan against his retirement account. By the time Trump nominated him to the high court in July 2018, those debts had vanished. Overall, his reported income and assets didn’t seem sufficient to pay off all that debt while maintaining his upper-class lifestyle: an expensive house in an exclusive suburban neighborhood, two kids in a $10,500-a-year private school, and a membership in a posh country club reported to charge $92,000 in initiation fees. His financial disclosure forms have raised more questions than they’ve answered, leading to speculation about whether he’s had a private benefactor and what sorts of conflicts that relationship might entail.

No other recent Supreme Court nominee has come before the Senate with so many unanswered questions regarding finances. That’s partly because many of Kavanaugh’s predecessors were a lot richer than he is. Chief Justice John Roberts, for instance, had been making $1 million a year in private practice before joining the DC Circuit as a judge. The poorer nominees had debts, but explainable ones, such as the $15,000 Sonia Sotomayor owed to her dentist. Neil Gorsuch came the closest to financial scandal when he disclosed that he owned a mountain fishing lodge in Colorado with two men who are top deputies to the billionaire Philip F. Anschutz, who had championed Gorsuch’s nomination.

Kavanaugh’s finances are far more mysterious. During his confirmation hearing last week, he escaped a public discussion of his spending habits because no senator asked about it. But on Tuesday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent Kavanaugh 14 pages of post-hearing follow-up questions, many of which involved his finances. On Thursday, Kavanaugh supplied answers, but he dodged some of the questions and left much of his financial situation unexplained.

A number of the questions Whitehouse sent Kavanaugh dealt with the house he bought in tony Chevy Chase, Maryland, in 2006 for $1.225 million. Kavanaugh would have needed $245,000 in cash for the traditional 20 percent down payment on the house. But in 2005, when his nomination to the DC Circuit was pending, Kavanaugh reported a total net worth to the Senate of about $91,000, which reflected a mere $10,000 in the bank and $25,000 in credit card debt. According to his financial disclosure forms before and after the purchase of his house in 2006, Kavanaugh’s liquid assets and bank balances never totaled more than $65,000, and those balances didn’t decline after the purchase of the house.

Whitehouse wanted to know why. He wrote, “The value of assets reportedly maintained in your ‘Bank of America Accounts’ in the years before, during, and after this purchase never decreased, indicating that funds used to pay the down payment and secure this home did not come from these accounts. Did you receive financial assistance in order to purchase this home?”

In his responses, Kavanaugh didn’t answer the question directly. He indicated that he took out a loan against his retirement fund to help make the down payment. But the year before he bought the house, he indicated on his financial disclosure form that the total value of that account was only $70,000. Loans through the Thrift Savings Program, the federal government retirement plan against which Kavanaugh borrowed money, are capped at the value of the account or 50 percent of the vested balance. For Kavanaugh, that wouldn’t have been nearly enough to cover the down payment on his house, even if he’d put down only 10 percent. (He also noted that he paid back the loan with paycheck deductions.)

Other questions from Whitehouse addressed Kavanaugh’s unusual debt history. Not long after Trump nominated him, the Washington Postreported that since joining the DC Circuit Court of Appeals as a judge in 2006, Kavanaugh had run up a significant amount of debt that often appeared to exceed the value of his cash and investment assets. His debts on three credit cards, as well as a loan against his retirement account, totaled between $60,000 and $200,000 in 2016, according to his financial disclosure forms. The next year, his debts vanished. When he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week for his confirmation hearing, his financial disclosure form listed no liabilities aside from his $815,000 mortgage. His disclosures don’t show any large financial gifts, outside income, or even a gambling windfall, as Sotomayor’s had when she hit the jackpot at a Florida casino in 2008 and won $8,283.

The White House didn’t fully address how Kavanaugh managed to incur all that debt and pay it off in a matter of months on his federal judge’s salary of $220,600 a year. (His wife left the workforce in 2010 and returned in 2015, when she took a part-time, $66,000-a-year job as the town manager in their village of 225 homes.) A spokesman told the Post in July that Kavanaugh had used his credit cards to purchase Washington Nationals season tickets and playoff game tickets for himself and friends, who later paid him back. The White House also said some of the debt came from home improvements.

Sen. Whitehouse was looking for a better answer as to how a man who has spent most of his professional life working in public service managed to pay off so much debt so quickly without draining his other savings accounts. (Kavanaugh worked in private practice for only about three years, in between stints at the office of the independent counsel during the Clinton administration.) In his written questions to Kavanaugh, Whitehouse asked how many seasons’ worth of Nationals tickets he’d purchased, which friends he’d bought them for, what sort of home improvements he’d made, and where the debt repayment money came from.

Kavanaugh elaborated on some of those answers in his response to Whitehouse this week. Of the large credit-card debts, he explained:

I am a huge sports fan. When the Nationals came to D.C. in 2005, I purchased four season tickets in my name every season from 2005 through 2017. I also purchased playoff packages for the four years that the Nationals made the playoffs (2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.) I have attended all 11 Nationals’ home playoff games in their history. (We are 3-8 in those games.) I have attended a couple of hundred regular season games. As is typical with baseball season tickets, I had a group of old friends who would split games with me. We would usually divide the tickets in a “ticket draft” at my house. Everyone in the group paid me for their tickets based on the cost of the tickets, to the dollar. No one overpaid or underpaid me for tickets. No loans were given in either direction.

He also told Whitehouse that the $1.225 million house he’d bought in 2006 was basically a fixer-upper. He included a long list of repairs he’d made on it—everything from replacing the HVAC system to mold removal—that accounted for the bulk of the rest of his debt. “Maintaining a house, especially an old house like ours, can be expensive,” he wrote.

Whitehouse also asked about Kavanaugh’s membership in the Chevy Chase Club, which he joined in 2016. In his responses to a Senate questionnaire before his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh made the club sound like a basic rec center, writing, “The Chevy Chase Club is a recreational club. We joined because the club has an outdoor hockey rink and a girls ice hockey program, and because of its gym and sports facilities.”

But the Chevy Chase Club is a lot more than a gym. Whitehouse noted in his questions that the club’s initiation fee is reportedly $92,000, plus more than $9,000 in annual dues. The private country club founded in 1892 is so elite that a neighborhood realtor once told the Guardian that “you can be a CEO, a billionaire, but you can’t get in.” Its website offers no insight as to how someone might go about joining—it’s by invitation only. But the website does outline the dress code: no jeans, no collarless shirts, and hats must be worn “visor forward.” Any guest hoping to play tennis with a member must appear on the court dressed only in white.  

As recently as 1976, the club refused to admit Jewish and African American members. In 2011, a reporter from the Telegraph wrote of the club, “Order a cocktail at the Chevy Chase country-club and you’ll step back into ante-bellum Savannah. The blacks wait on Wasps, showing all the deference expected of them. You won’t find many Cohens either, lounging on the well-kept lawn.”

Whitehouse wanted to know how someone with less than $65,000 in the bank came up with the initiation fee to join the club. Did someone help him? And if so, who? Kavanaugh wrote in his response that he paid the full price to join the club, as well as the annual dues, with no discounts. Befitting a club member, he declined to say exactly how much that initiation fee was.

As part of the document dump leading up to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, a lawyer for the Bush administration released an email from Kavanaugh’s time working in the White House. It appeared to be part of a conversation with some school buddies discussing a weekend reunion in Annapolis. Kavanaugh wrote, “Apologies to all for missing Friday (good excuse), arriving late Saturday (weak excuse), and growing aggressive after blowing still another game of dice (don’t recall). Reminders to everyone to be very, very vigilant w/r/t confidentiality on all issues and all fronts, including with spouses.”

The email prompted Whitehouse to ask Kavanaugh whether some of his debts might relate to a gambling addiction. He asked whether Kavanaugh participates in a regular poker or dice game, and even whether he ever ran up any gambling debts in the state of New Jersey, former home to casinos owned by Trump. “Have you ever sought treatment for a gambling addiction?” he also asked.

Aside from a few low-stakes blackjack hands played in his twenties, Kavanaugh responded that he’s not a gambler and never has been.

His answers leave many questions as to where the nominee found the cash to buy his house and to pay off his debts last year. He acknowledged that in 2014, he received a lump-sum payment—which Whitehouse estimated at $150,000—as part of a settlement in a class action filed by federal judges seeking back pay for cost-of-living increases denied by Congress. The payment wasn’t included on his financial disclosure form because, he wrote, the instructions exempt reporting pay from the federal government. Kavanaugh also indicated that his income had increased from teaching gigs at Harvard, his wife’s return to the workforce after many years at home, and a pay raise.

But reading between the lines of his answers to Whitehouse, it’s clear that Kavanaugh has gotten a substantial amount of financial help from his parents, in-laws, or other family members. (Kavanaugh had a privileged, private-school upbringing as the son of a Washington lobbyist for the cosmetics industry and a state prosecutor.) “We have not received financial gifts other than from our family which are excluded from disclosure in judicial financial disclosure reports,” he wrote.

Kavanaugh wouldn’t be the first Supreme Court nominee or justice to receive a windfall from his parents.  Both Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Elena Kagan inherited money from parents who had died, but unlike Kavanaugh, they disclosed the estate transfer on their federal forms. The White House has worked hard to frame Kavanaugh as a mainstream fellow who, just like ordinary American dads, loves sports and drives the carpool. Publicly disclosing the extent to which his parents or in-laws may be subsidizing his high-end lifestyle could probably undermine that portrayal.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on September 20.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jonesplease join us with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep on doing the type of journalism that 2018 demands.

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OUTRAGEOUS: More than 1,000 deaths after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, 86 in Texas after Harvey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF DAILY KOS.COM)

 

UTUADO, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 05: Daniel Braithwaite prepares to catch a box of M.R.E.'s as helps U.S. Army 1st Special Forces Command soldiers as they deliver food and water to people after Hurricane Maria swept through the island on October 5, 2017 in Utuado, Puerto Rico. The neighborhood was cut off from help for about 2 weeks and there is still a need for basic life necessities after the category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Over 1,000 (one thousand!) people have died in Puerto Rico (above the average death rate) in the first three months after Hurricane Maria (through November).  So far we only have data for the first three months—September, October and November.   There is no information on the causes of death so far but Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism has sued the government for the cause of death data.

Even in November, the latest month for which we have data,  there were still 115 more deaths than usual.  Although we don’t yet know the causes of these deaths, is there any doubt that the government’s poor response to the devastation played a major role?  The lack of shelter, drinking water, food, electricity and adequate medical care, I’m sure have all played a roll.  The “official” death toll of course has stayed at 62.

Keep in mind that these deaths, over and above the usual number of deaths for the time of year, occurred even though the population was shrinking due to outmigration to the mainland.

The total number of deaths above average in September, October and November was 1,230, according to Alexis Santos, a demographer at Pennsylvania State University who obtained the data from the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics and conducted an analysis that he released to the Los Angeles Times this week.

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Of those deaths, 491 occurred in September and 584 in October — figures very close to estimates Santos published late last year based on more limited data.

The new analysis shows the higher death rate continued into November, the most recent month for which he obtained figures, with 155 more than average

www.latimes.com/…

Keep in mind that these death “overages” occurred despite the overall shrinking of the population.

@#$&*%#$&*

In Texas meanwhile, with a much larger population,

Hurricane Harvey, for example, killed about 60 people in the Houston area and then another 26 due to “unsafe or unhealthy conditions” related to the loss or disruption of services such as utilities, transportation and medical care. Nobody was still dying a month later.

www.motherjones.com/…

Is this any way to treat US citizens?!?

This administration has blood on its hands!