Monthly Archives: June 2016

Trump Gears up for Tax Fight over D.C. Hotel

Donald Trump is gearing up for another tax fight: not over his personal taxes, but the bill due on the five-star luxury hotel he’s building just a short distance from the Capitol.

This week, lawyers for Trump began the process of suing the District of Columbia government to reduce Trump’s tax bill for the new Trump International Hotel project. The hotel is set to open in September, just two months before the presidential election where Trump is all but certain to be the Republican nominee.

If Trump moves forward with the hotel-related tax battle, it would be another potential distraction for his presidential campaign. His failure to release his own personal tax returns has generated numerous news stories, as has his claiming of a $302 property tax break on his Manhattan apartment. That relief is available only to taxpayers who make less than $500,000 a year.

Trump is also suing two restaurateurs who backed out of plans to open dining establishments at the planned Washington hotel after Trump lashed out at Mexican immigrants last year.

Trump’s D.C. tax dispute centers on the value of buildings one of his development companies is leasing and renovating in the former Old Post Office complex on Pennsylvania Avenue, one of the most prestigious locations in the nation’s capital.

The post office and clock tower, built in a Romanesque Revival style, was completed in 1899 and served for several decades as the headquarters of the U.S. Post Office Department. Trump’s team and historic preservation specialists in the federal government have reportedly been at odds over some aspects of the construction and design plans.

In recent years, city assessors valued the structures – or, technically, the leases of those buildings – at about $98 million. After a first-level appeal last year, the city reduced the assessment to closer to $91 million. Last fall, Trump’s team took the case to a city appeals board, but that panel refused to cut the bill any further.

On Tuesday, Trump’s attorneys opened an electronic file for the suit against the city in D.C. Superior Court and obtained a case number.

The opening of a case file usually signals the filing of a suit is imminent. But as of Wednesday afternoon, no legal filing to open the case had actually come in, a clerk said.

Trump’s team has a deadline of September 30 to file a suit challenging the assessments. Such suits initially go to mediation, which often takes up to a year and a half to get underway.

Court records show the matter is being handled by real estate attorney William Bosch of Arnold & Porter. Bosch did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story. A spokeswoman for Trump’s presidential campaign and a development executive at the Trump Organization in New York also did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s unclear precisely how much money Trump has at stake in the current tax fight.

The tax in dispute is technically not a real estate tax, but a “possessory interest” tax D.C. enacted in 2000 to capture revenue from private companies leasing space on government property that is otherwise tax exempt. The tax was challenged in court by the developers of Union Station. The litigation was settled and the bill for that project was cut.

Trump’s Trump Old Post Office LLC was billed almost $1.7 million in tax on the buildings for the current tax year and paid half of that sum in April, city records show. It paid roughly $1.7 million in 2015, as well.

As Trump aides prepared their bid for the project in 2012, they tried and failed to get the D.C. government to waive the tax, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The hotel project is passing through a sensitive and contentious stage for tax issues as the construction work moves towards completion. Additional tax can be assessed when the work is 65 percent complete, experts said.

Such a supplemental assessment was recently done on the property, and Trump’s team is currently appealing that to a city panel, an official said Wednesday.

DWI Arrests Skyrocket After Uber and Lyft Chased Out of Austin

(ANTIMEDIAAccording to local CBS-affiliate KEYE TV, DWI arrests have increased 7.5 percent between May and June in the city of Austin in Texas. What changed? Uber and Lyft left town on May 9.

The Austin Police Department released new numbers to KEYE TV that show there were 359 DWI arrests from May 9, the day Uber and Lyft shut down, to May 31st of this year,” KEYE TV reported. “Last year during the same time period, there were 334 arrests. That’s a 7.5 percent increase in the weeks following their departure.”

But before the ride sharing apps were essentially banned from Austin, Uber released a statement claiming drunk driving crashes had been decreasing in the region since the app became popular among locals. They urged Austin residents to help stand with them. A Politifact report reviewed Uber’s claim, ruling the ride sharing giant was mostly correct. Since ride sharing entered the Austin market, the rate of DWI crashes dropped 23 percent, suggesting that, perhaps, making rides widely available correlated with the rate shift.

In Austin, there are more bars per capita than any other city in the United States. It would be fair to think locals would fight any attempt to restrict or ban two of the most drunk-friendly companies in the country. Yet just a month ago, Austinites said no to Proposition 1, a ballot defeat that allowed the City of Austin to go ahead with plans to require that ride share drivers’ be fingerprinted for background checks. The city also moved to prohibit ride share drivers from stopping in lanes of traffic while picking up passengers.

These changes prompted Silicon Valley-based Uber and Lyft to leave town. The gap left behind prompted local drivers to help fill the vacuum. Now, instead of a ride sharing app, Austinites turn to Facebook groups to find a ride.

After May 9, 10,000 Uber drivers lost their credentials, and Arcade City/Request A Ride was born. It is a closed Facebook group with over 36,000 members that offers locals an opportunity to request and give rides — to total strangers.

But as the group becomes popular, problems are beginning to concern users.

According to Vocativ, people are posting their locations to thousands of other locals, which  is a concern on its own — but other problems appear to have already been giving Arcade City members serious headaches.

Equally alarming,” Vocativ suggests, “there’s no way of knowing who’s actually picking you up. Anyone can join the group, make a Facebook profile, and photoshop a fake Uber profile to their liking.”

In spite of these concerns, Arcade City’s popularity gains traction — and city officials have vowed to bring the group down, targeting the ridesharing group and its users by impounding people’s cars.

In a statement, Arcade City’s founder, Christopher David, said:

The City of Austin created a mess by pushing out Uber and Lyft. Now the City is impounding the vehicles of drivers who are helping to clean up that mess. Everyone involved with this ‘sting’ should be ashamed.”

Austin is not the only city where officials seem to be targeting ridesharing. Chicago could also lose the apps if the harsher regulations passed recently by the City Council have the same effect as the new restrictions in Austin.


This article (DWI Arrests Skyrocket After Uber and Lyft Chased Out of Austin) is a free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Clarice Palmer andtheAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11 pm Eastern/8 pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, please email the error and name of the article at edits@theantimedia.org.

Justices Unanimously Reverse Ex-Virginia Governor’s Public Corruption Conviction

SCOTUS-McDonnell
Bob McDonnell speaking at CPAC. February 19, 2010. (Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.)

 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday unanimously reversed the public corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, narrowing the scope of official conduct that can land politicians in trouble under federal bribery law.

McDonnell, once a rising star among Republican officeholders, was sentenced in 2014 to two years in prison on charges he took “official acts” in exchange for more than $175,000 in gifts and cash from Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. McDonnell was accused of using his office to promote Williams’ company.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the court, said the justices were adopting a more “bounded interpretation” of “official acts” than what prosecutors had advocated. The court sent the case back to the trial judge to decide whether there was enough evidence that McDonnell’s conduct fell under the new definition of “official acts.” If so, the judge could order a new trial. If not, the charges will be dismissed.

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns,” Roberts wrote. “It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”

Noel Francisco of Jones Day argued in the high court that McDonnell’s actions were “routine political courtesies” such as suggesting meetings or attending events. The justices agreed, writing that those types of actions, “standing alone,” did not qualify as an official act.

The government’s interpretation of official acts was overbroad, the court said.

“Officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse,” Roberts wrote.

McDonnell also claimed the trial judge inadequately screened potential jurors for bias caused by massive pretrial publicity. But the Supreme Court did not take up that issue.

A federal district court judge upheld the sentence, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed in July 2015, finding that McDonnell’s actions fit within the scope of relevant bribery statutes. The high court gave McDonnell a boost in August when it stayed the start of his prison sentence pending his petition for certiorari.

During oral arguments in April, it appeared a majority of the court was concerned an overly broad definition of “official acts” would leave government officials fearful that commonplace interactions with the public would put them in legal jeopardy.

“My goodness,” Justice Stephen Breyer said at one point as he questioned Francisco. “Letters go by the dozens over to the secretary of HUD, to the secretary of HHS … and they say, ‘My constituent Smith has a matter before you that has been pending for 180 months; we would appreciate it if you would review that and take action’ … A crime? My goodness.”

Roberts referred during the argument to a brief filed on behalf of former attorneys general and White House counsels. “They say, quoting their brief, that ‘if this decision is upheld, it will cripple the ability of elected officials to fulfill their role in our representative democracy,’” Roberts said. “Now, I think it’s extraordinary that those people agree on anything. But to agree on something as sensitive as this and to be willing to put their names on something that says this—this cannot be prosecuted conduct. I think is extraordinary.”

Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben defended the government’s reading of the elements of bribery. “Getting in the door, Mr. Chief Justice, is one of the absolutely critical things,” adding that “taking a meeting is absolutely government action.”

SCOTUS Shreds Civil Rights for Victims of Police Misconduct

As the number of police killed in the line of duty continues to decline, while the number of civilians killed by police rises, the question of whether ordinary Americans have any meaningful civil recourse against officers who violate their rights has taken on pressing importance.

On Monday, the Supreme Court effectively answered “no” in an appalling decision that reveals the extent to which the Court has failed to ensure that those charged with enforcing our laws exercise their authority responsibly.

On March 23, 2010, Sergeant Randy Baker of the Tulia, Texas Police Department followed Israel Leija, Jr. to a drive-in restaurant with a warrant for Leija’s arrest. When Baker approached Leija’s car and informed Leija that he was under arrest, Leija declined to go quietly, speeding off and leading officers on an 18-minute chase at speeds between 85 and 110 miles per hour.

During the chase, Leija called the Tulia Police dispatcher, stating that he had a gun and would shoot officers if they continued to pursue him. The dispatcher relayed the threats to the officers pursuing Leija, reporting also that Leija might be intoxicated.

Leija obviously had to be stopped. Police set up tire spikes at three locations Leija was expected to reach. The officers who set up spike strips were trained on how to deploy spikes and on how to take a defensive posture that minimizes the risk of injury to themselves from passing drivers.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Trooper Chadrin Mullenix, who had responded to the call to pursue Leija, initially drove to an overpass with the intention of setting up another spike strip, but then decided upon another tactic: shooting at Leija’s engine block to disable it.

Mullenix had no training in shooting at vehicles. While he asked the DPS dispatcher to inform his supervisor of his plan and ask if his supervisor thought it was worth doing, he exited his vehicle with a .223 caliber M-4 rifle and took up a shooting position on the overpass without waiting for a response. (His supervisor subsequently told him to “stand by” and “see if the spikes work first,” but whether or not Mullenix heard the instruction was disputed.)

When Leija approached the overpass, Mullenix fired six shots. None hit the car’s radiator, hood, or engine block. Four hit Leija in the upper body, killing him. In the aftermath of the shooting, Mullenix’s first words to his supervisor were, “How’s that for proactive?” (This was apparently in reference to the supervisor’s prior criticism of Mullenix’s for his failure to take initiative.)

Beatrice Luna, as the representative of Leija’s estate, and Christina Flores, on behalf of Leija’s minor child, sued Mullenix under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 — the federal law that authorizes citizens to sue for constitutional violations — alleging that Mullenix violated the Fourth Amendment by using excessive force.

While Section 1983 unambiguously states that every person acting under color of law who causes a “deprivation of any rights…secured by the Constitution and laws” “shall be liable to the party injured,” the Supreme Court has created an exception, and Mullenix sought to take advantage of it.

The Court has held that police officers sued for constitutional violations can raise “qualified immunity” as a defense, and thereby escape being held personally liable for damages unless their conduct violates “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights; moreover, unlike most other non-final judgments, the Court has held that a trial court’s denial of qualified immunity is immediately appealable.

The trial court denied Mullenix’s attempt to invoke qualified immunity, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling over a vigorous dissent. The Fifth Circuit majority determined that Mullenix’s actions were objectively unreasonable, citing several factors that had justified deadly force in previous cases but were absent in Mullenix’s case, including: the absence of innocent bystanders, Mullenix’s failure to give the spike strips a chance to work, and the fact that Mullenix did not make a split-second judgment but went to the bridge and waited three minutes for Leija’s car to approach.

The court concluded that “the law was clearly established such that a reasonable officer would have known that the use of deadly force, absent a sufficiently substantial and immediate threat, violated the Fourth Amendment.”

In a per curiam decision — meaning short and unsigned — the Supreme Court reversed and held that Mullenix was entitled to qualified immunity. The Court drew upon decisions in which it has emphasized just how “clearly established” the unreasonableness of an officer’s actions must be in order to deny qualified immunity.

“The relevant inquiry,” the Court explained, is “whether existing precedent placed the conclusion that Mullenix acted unreasonably in these circumstances ‘beyond debate.’“ (Emphasis added.) Highlighting the “hazy legal backdrop against which Mullenix acted,” and pointing out that Leija was driving fast, was reportedly intoxicated, and was racing towards officers manning a set of tire spikes, the Court deferred to Mullenix’s “reasonable” judgment.

In a passionate and meticulously fact-sensitive dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor demonstrated the kind of impartial, truth-seeking judicial engagement that is required if civil rights laws are not to become an empty promise.

Mullenix’s decision, Sotomayor explained, was not supported by any reasonable judgment. There was “no evidence that shooting at the car was more reliable than the spike strips.” Mullenix had “no information to suggest that shooting to disable a car had a higher success rate [than spike strips], much less that doing so with no training and at night was more likely to succeed.”

Mullenix took his shot when Leija was between 25 and 30 yards away from the spike strip, which means that he would have “bought the officers he was trying to protect — officers who had been trained to take defensive positions — less than three-quarters of a second over waiting for the spike strips.”

Justice Sotomayor concluded: “Mullenix puts forth no plausible reason to choose shooting at Leija’s engine block over waiting for the results of the spike strips.”

In the final paragraph of her dissent, Justice Sotomayor noted Mullenix’s first words to his superior officer after the shooting: “How’s that for proactive?”

Sotomayor recognized that the Supreme Court considers an officer’s subjective intentions irrelevant to the Fourth Amendment’s “objectively reasonable inquiry.” But she explained that Mullenix’s comment seems “revealing of a culture this Court’s decision supports… by sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later,’ approach to policing.”

A doctrine of qualified immunity that regards as “reasonable” anything that is not “beyond debate” nurtures that culture. Decisions like this, which leave victims of police violence without a realistic avenue for the vindication of constitutional rights, represent a profound abdication of judicial responsibility.

A version of this article first appeared at the Huffington Post.

Page and Plant’s Win in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Case Seen as Bolstering Songwriters’ Creative Rights

Robert Plant (left) and Jimmy Page (right) of Led Zeppelin, in concert in Chicago, Illinois. 1977.
Robert Plant (left) and Jimmy Page (right) of Led Zeppelin, in concert in Chicago, Illinois. 1977.
Photo: Jim Summaria via Wikipedia

Thursday’s verdict for Led Zeppelin in the copyright trial over the 1971 hit song “Stairway to Heaven” reaffirms the creative rights of songwriters while demonstrating the difficulties in pursuing infringement over sheet music, according to legal experts following the case.

The jury’s decision followed a highly publicized trial that featured testimonies from Led Zeppelin band members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page about the origins of “Stairway to Heaven.” The case was brought by the trustee for the estate of Randy Craig Wolfe, known professionally as Randy California, which alleged in a 2014 lawsuit that Led Zeppelin ripped off “Taurus,” a song from California’s band, Spirit, in writing the first two minutes and 37 seconds of “Stairway to Heaven.”

Legal experts said the jury’s finding turned the tables back in favor of musical artists after last year’s $7.4 million verdict over the 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.”

“Page and Plant’s victory is sweet music to the creative community and signifies a U-turn away from the dissonant clash of the Blurred Lines verdict,” said William Hochberg of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger, who isn’t involved in the case.

The trial, which featured testimony from a host of musicologists, focused on whether Plant and Page had enough access to “Taurus” to have copied it and whether the songs were “substantially similar.” Jurors found that the trustee owned the 1967 copyright to “Taurus,” which Led Zeppelin had disputed, and that Plant and Page had heard the song prior to the release of “Stairway to Heaven,” according to the jury verdict sheet.

Both Plant and Page had testified that they didn’t remember meeting Spirit’s band members or hearing “Taurus.” But jurors concluded that the songs had no “substantial similarity.”

The trustee’s lawyer, Francis Malofiy of Francis Alexander in Media, Pennsylvania, said in an emailed statement that Led Zeppelin “won on a technicality.”

“It is important to realize, however, that the jury agreed very clearly with Plaintiff that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had access to Taurus, and discounted their denials that they had never heard Taurus before,” he wrote. “For Led Zeppelin, the case was about their legacy and reputation; for Randy California it was about credit. In this regard, neither party won.”

Page and Plant said in a statement issued through Warner Music Group: “We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years.” Warner Music Group, whose three subsidiaries were named in the case, also issued a statement that “supporting our artists and protecting their creative freedom is paramount.”

Hochberg said the jury could have been convinced that Wolfe “didn’t invent the A minor chord with a descending bass line” found in both songs.

Another big issue might have been the trustee’s inability to play the actual sound recording of “Taurus,” said J. Michael Keyes, a partner in Dorsey & Whitney’s Seattle office, who posted about the verdict on his firm’s blog, TheTMCA.com.

The case dealt with music that was copyrighted prior to the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976. That meant the copyright was for the original sheet music of “Taurus.”

“The substantial-similarity analysis would be the sound recording of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ versus the sheet music to ‘Taurus,'” Keyes said. “That’s what the jury ultimately was instructed to compare.”

In his statement, Malofiy agreed that the verdict was largely determined by the judge’s decision not to allow him to play the album recording of “Taurus,” which was in Page’s record collection. Such a ruling “tied our hands behind our back” and was not “legally correct or logically sound,” he wrote.

“In essence, this case was tried in an alternate reality,” he added. “The jury never heard the album recording of ‘Taurus’ that Jimmy Page heard and used to create ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Instead it heard a very basic piece of sheet music that no one, including Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, had ever seen. It was an artificial comparison that bore little relation to the reality of the claim.”

Playboy Magazine Releases “The Freedom Issue”

LOS ANGELES, June 24, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Playboy magazine today announced the release of “The Freedom Issue,” its July/ August 2016 double issue which considers the state of freedom in the United States and examines a variety of issues from sexual liberties and civil rights to privacy and freedom in a connected world (issue on newsstands now, with an online preview available at www.playboy.com/freedomissue2016).

The centerpiece of Playboy’s “Freedom Issue” is a series of 11 essays from high-profile contributors who explore the idea of freedom in 2016 and share their viewpoints on some of the most important social and cultural issues facing Americans today. Highlights include:

Hugh M. Hefner on the Republican sexual revolution
Killer Mike on minority voting
Chelsea Handler on abortion
Patton Oswalt on the freedom to make mistakes
Krist Novoselic on fixing the election process
Dr. Drew Pinsky on sexual liberty
Hacker/cybersecurity expert Jeff Moss on surveillance and privacy in the digital age
Dr. Sanjay Gupta on the American pill epidemic
Former CBS News producer Mary Mapes on the state of journalism
Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper on fixing the American police force
Former undercover DEA agent Robert Mazur on the new drug war
“Since its very first issue in 1953, Playboy has served as a social and political sounding board for some of the most important issues of our time. To this day, the magazine upholds this tradition and continues to feature powerful voices that examine and promote the sexual liberties, personal freedoms and constitutional rights we enjoy as Americans,” said Playboy’s Editorial Director Jason Buhrmester. ” ‘The Freedom Issue’ is the perfect compilation of everything that defines Playboy and differentiates it from any other magazine available today.”

Additional content featured in Playboy’s “Freedom Issue” includes:

The Playboy Interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates: a thoughtful conversation with the critically-acclaimed author, journalist and educator on American race relations, his rise to fame, and being a voice for black America
20Q with Wiz Khalifa: the Pittsburgh-based rapper’s take on police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and marijuana legalization
Private Parts: an essay by Thomas Page McBee that explores the line between privacy and isolation in the new American locker room
God Save the GOP: Political columnist John Meroney on Paul Ryan, and whether or not anyone is listening to his ideas
The Wildest, Craziest, Most Offensive Jokes Ever Told: Some of today’s funniest comedians, including Whitney Cummings, Jeff Ross, JB Smoove and Kevin Pollack, weigh in on the fearless jokes that helped challenge our culture—from racism to drugs to politics.
Playboy’s July/ August 2016 “Freedom Issue” is available on newsstands nationwide, with digital copies of the issue available here.

About Playboy Enterprises, Inc.
Playboy is one of the most recognized and popular consumer brands in the world. Playboy Enterprises, Inc. is a media and lifestyle company that markets the brand through a wide range of media properties and licensing initiatives. The company publishes Playboy magazine in the United States and licenses foreign editions of Playboy around the world; operates Playboy.com, a leading men’s lifestyle and entertainment site; and creates content for distribution via television networks, websites, mobile platforms and radio. Through licensing agreements, the Playboy brand appears on a wide range of consumer products in more than 180 countries, as well as retail stores and entertainment venues. For more information about Playboy Enterprises, please visit www.PlayboyEnterprises.com.

Poor People Flock to Colorado Pot Industry—Now What?

Standing in an empty gravel lot behind some warehouses near the outskirts of Pueblo, Colorado, Devin Butts took a deep drag from the joint he’d just rolled, the early afternoon sun high overhead. The 25-year-old had stepped off a bus in this southern Colorado city two days earlier, eager to escape the world of hard drugs, hard time and homelessness he’d known in north central Texas. He’d decided that partaking of Colorado’s legalized cannabis would be a safe way to wean himself off the various perilous habits he’d acquired—plus he was on the run from a marijuana possession charge working its way through the Texas courts, a case that could mean more time for him behind bars.

While sleeping at Pueblo’s rescue mission, Butts was working to set down roots in his new home. He’d spent the morning at the local mall, looking for work. Now, to reward himself, he was heading to the Spot, Pueblo’s largest recreational pot dispensary. On the way to the store, located in an industrial part of town, he’d stopped in this lot, surrounded by piles of used tires and abandoned vehicles, to sample from a pill container of cannabis, filled with a few small nuggets of Chemdawg that he’d bought for $2 from a guy at the downtown soup kitchen. Butts didn’t have enough money to purchase anything at the Spot, so he wanted to be stoned enough beforehand so he wouldn’t be frustratingly tempted by the selection.

“I am going to get the highest I’ve been here,” he said between coughs of smoke, gazing across the rolling grasslands that stretched to hazy Rocky Mountain foothills far to the west. “This place is awesome. You don’t get anything like this in Texas.”

Butts is among the hundreds of destitute individuals and families that shelters report are coming to Colorado each month because of legalized marijuana. But if his experience is anything like that of many of these newcomers, while Butts might find impressive views in his new home, he likely won’t find conditions conducive to starting a new life. In Colorado, homeless programs are severely overextended, housing costs are skyrocketing and while marijuana might be legal, public consumption of it isn’t—which means those like Butts who don’t have private residences can still face harsh consequences for using it. It doesn’t help that marijuana jobs are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain by those struggling with homelessness. So while folks like Butts can spend money in Colorado’s new marijuana industry, they can’t easily profit from it.

Efforts are afoot to tackle the problem. Colorado officials recently pledged to study marijuana and homelessness, and last month, the city of Aurora, east of Denver, earmarked $4.5 million of its cannabis revenues for homeless programs over the next three years. But some shelter managers, marijuana activists and cannabis business owners say it’s not enough, that a greater share of the hefty profits and tax revenue being generated by the new marijuana market should go to understanding and addressing the needs of the people who’ve arrived in the state with an interest in marijuana and not much else.

Butts is among those who think proceeds from the state’s booming marijuana regime should go to help those like himself that have been lured to the region because of cannabis. “Why not, man?” he said. “It’s going to help this place grow. As long as the people aren’t just coming here to smoke. I am able-bodied, and I am going to work.”

Plight of the ‘Trimmigrants’

To get a job in Colorado’s marijuana industry, you need a marijuana occupational license from the state, which requires a notarized application form, a $150 fee and proof of state residence. Those interested also have to pass a criminal background check.

While shelter workers report that many of their clients say they’ve come to Colorado to land jobs in the booming cannabis market, such hopes are often stymied by the strict criminal history restrictions mandated by state marijuana law. Studies have shown that homelessness and incarceration are mutual risk factors, with 25 to 50 percent of the homeless population having spent time behind bars.

That, plus the cost of a license, could be why Susan Chicovsky, owner of Green Mountain Harvest, a Denver-based marijuana harvest and trim company, says she rarely if ever has currently or recently homeless people contacting her for work, even though trimming is a common job for those wanting to get into the industry. “It’s definitely an entry-level job,” said Chicovsky. “I am wondering how else we can help these people.”

But even newcomers who don’t have criminal histories often find it’s not easy finding work in the cannabis industry. That includes 24-year old Aaron Springheart, who moved from Florida to Colorado with his brother in early 2016 to find work in the marijuana business. “It was to start somewhere new,” said Springheart. So far, however, that hasn’t happened, so he’s been sleeping at the rescue mission in Pueblo and picking up contract jobs when he can. “It reminds me of the Gold Rush,” he said. “Everyone came, but there wasn’t enough gold for everyone.”

What’s more, the marijuana jobs that are available might not be enough to pull people out of poverty. According to Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, workers need to make at least $19 an hour to afford housing in the Denver area. But marijuana trimmers usually start at around $10 an hour, and budtenders working in the dispensaries often don’t make much more than that.

Marty Otañez, a University of Colorado Denver anthropology professor who’s been studying the state’s marijuana industry, said he’s met multiple cannabis workers who are on their way to becoming homeless. It’s left him convinced that it’s time for people in charge of the industry to address the problem. “The flow of ‘trimmigrants’ and other cannabis workers into Colorado and the added pressure on homeless shelters and social services for unemployed or poorly paid cannabis workers is a symptom of the broader problem of cannabis capitalism gone awry,” said Otañez. “Nominal efforts to fund corporate social responsibility schemes demonstrate the lack of seriousness on the part of cannabis business people to address in any genuine way the social ills associated with green gold.”

An Industry for All People

With nearly a billion dollars in revenue and more than $135 million in statewide taxes and fees generated by Colorado marijuana sales last year, some shelter managers would like to see a portion of the proceeds devoted to homeless services. “If some of those dollars can go to serving those folks, it could really help people,” said Tom Luehrs, executive director of Denver’s St. Francis Center day shelter. “We are not saying we want to become rich; we just want to help these people because Colorado is doing something good, and it’s bringing people here.”

So far, none of Colorado’s marijuana tax revenues have gone to homeless programs. That will soon change. In Aurora, the city council recently voted to earmark $1.5 million of marijuana tax proceeds for homeless services annually for the next three years. According to Nancy Sheffield, project manager for Aurora’s neighborhood services department, the decision wasn’t based on concerns that marijuana was increasing local homeless numbers; it’s simply a matter of allocating resources to high-priority issues.

Whatever the reason, homeless advocates celebrated the move. “It’s a brilliant move by Aurora,” said James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison for the city’s Comitis Crisis Center, a shelter. “It’s not every day that a municipality gets a new funding stream. To reinvest that to meet the needs of struggling families is a good moral imperative stand.”

Soon there could be additional marijuana revenues going to help the poor. In response to anecdotal reports of marijuana increasing the homeless population, Colorado’s Department of Public Safety will launch a $75,000 study of homeless people in five county jails to determine how many of them came to Colorado because of marijuana. The results could influence the allocation of revenues generated by a 10 percent state sales tax on recreational marijuana, since by law the funds must go to the costs of regulating and dealing with the impacts of legalized cannabis. “If the study points to an impact and we can get towards causation rather than correlation, there should be ample reason for it to go towards homelessness,” said Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s director of marijuana coordination.

Some marijuana entrepreneurs are also tackling the issue. Inspired in part by a new Denver rule that marijuana businesses must submit a “good neighbor” plan to receive or renew their operating licenses, the Denver Relief dispensary is developing a what it hopes will become a citywide “community integration plan” that involves marijuana businesses supporting existing homeless services, among other social welfare efforts. “People are not homeless for a single reason,” said Denver Relief co-founder Kayvan Khalatbari. “It spans mental health issues, job issues and affordable housing issues. Cannabis didn’t create those issues. But what can we do to help? Outside of building massive housing projects, which are not really possible for us, it’s providing support to organizations already doing what they can.”

But some say such efforts aren’t enough, that the marijuana industry needs to do more to help those most in need if it aims to stay true to its activist roots.

Jose Santiago, for example, moved to Colorado in 2013 to work in the medical marijuana industry. The former Puerto Rico National Guardsman spent several weeks living in his Chevy Cavalier in a Walmart parking lot before he got a job as a hotel housekeeper, saved up for his marijuana occupational license and eventually landed a job as a trimmer. Since then, he worked at various marijuana growing and processing facilities until last month, when he says his employer fired him for, among other things, suggesting the company help the homeless. Now he’s distributing job fliers around Denver’s shelters, both to make ends meet and to help others dealing with same struggles he’s experienced. He wonders why others aren’t doing likewise, such as by opening a dispensary that would hire the underprivileged.

“If you consume cannabis, you are a pariah,” said Santiago. “I have encountered so many people here who have run away from oppression and prosecution. The marijuana industry should be giving money to places that can help and should be providing a safe haven. We want the cannabis industry to be for all people, not just certain people.”

Divided Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action Program

 In a surprise 4-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the controversial affirmative action program of the University of Texas, delivering a significant victory to proponents of similar programs nationwide.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Fisher v. University of Texas, said, “As this Court has said, enrolling a diverse student body ‘promotes cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races. Equally important, ‘student body diversity promotes learning outcomes, and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society.’”

But Kennedy cautioned that the university’s program, combining a “top ten percent” admission policy combined with a holistic review of applications, is unique, suggesting that the decision does not resolve the issue broadly.

Kennedy also wrote that “It is the university’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies.”

Kennedy was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. dissented.

The ruling was a sequel to the high court’s 2013 decision with the same name. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in either ruling, presumably because of her involvement in the case as U.S. solicitor general before she joined the court in 2010. Antonin Scalia, who participated in oral argument but died in February, has not yet been replaced.

The high court’s 7-1 decision in the first Fisher case stopped short of overturning the Texas affirmative action program. But the justices told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to review it again under a stricter standard less deferential to the university, which defended the program.

In response, the Fifth Circuit upheld the program for a second time in 2014, prompting plaintiff Abigail Fisher to file a second petition to the Supreme Court in February 2015.
Fisher, who is white, first challenged the program in 2008, after she was denied admission to the state university. The university’s “holistic” admission program uses race as one of several factors in the admissions process for a portion of the incoming class of students. Fisher claimed the consideration of race violated her 14th Amendment right to equal protection.

Kennedy wrote that it could not be shown that Fisher was denied equal protection of the laws when she was denied admission.

Democrats’ War on Due Process and Terrorist Fearmongering Long Predate Orlando

BEFORE THE BODIES were removed from the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last week, Democrats began eagerly exploiting that atrocity to demand a new, secret “terrorist watchlist”: something that was once the domestic centerpiece of the Bush/Cheney war-on-terror mentality. Led by their propaganda outlet, Center for American Progress (CAP), Democrats now want to empower the Justice Department — without any judicial adjudication — to unilaterally bar citizens who have not been charged with (let alone convicted of) any crime from purchasing guns.

Worse than the measure itself is the rancid rhetoric they are using. To justify this new list, Democrats, in unison, are actually arguing that the U.S. government must constrain people whom they are now calling “potential terrorists.” Just spend a moment pondering how creepy and Orwellian that phrase is in the context of government designations.

What is a “potential terrorist”? Isn’t everyone that? And who wants the U.S. government empowered to unilaterally restrict what citizens can do based on predictions or guesses about what they might become or do in the future? Does anyone have any doubt that this will fall disproportionately on certain groups and types of people?

The Democrats’ most extreme attack on due process comes, unsurprisingly, from that party’s supremely authoritarian Terror Warrior, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose bill would “give the attorney general the discretion to block a sale to a given individual suspected of involvement of some kind in terrorism.” In their effort to exploit Orlando and other recent mass shootings, Feinstein and the Democrats encountered a serious problem: Neither Omar Mateen, nor the racist Charleston killer Dylann Roof, nor numerous other mass shooters, were on any terrorist watchlist (Mateen was investigated by the FBI, which — rightly — closed its file on him in 2014 after it found no evidence of wrongdoing). So Feinstein wrote a special provision in her bill to obviate this objection, one empowering the attorney general to put anyone on the banned list “who has been investigated in the last five years for ‘conduct related to a Federal crime of terrorism’” — even if they were ultimately found to have done nothing wrong.

After Feinstein’s bill was rejected last night on a largely party-line vote by the Senate, the Democrats unleashed a fearmongering messaging campaign so exploitative and deceitful that it would have made Karl Rove blush with embarrassment, or at least seethe with envy.

So now, in the lexicon of the leading liberal lights of the Democratic Party, someone deemed by the U.S. government to be suspicious — placed in secret on a list, with no evidence presented and no court process — is the equivalent of “ISIS.” And to demand due process be accorded — says thisHarvard Law Professor — is to arm ISIS.

To see how deep down the authoritarian hole Democrats reside, considerthis 1987 New York Times editorial raging against Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese for arguing that criminal suspects don’t deserve Miranda warnings. Meese’s rationale: “You don’t have many suspects who are innocent of crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.” Said the NYT editors in response: “In other words, guilty until proven guilty.” That’s exactly what Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy believe: If the U.S. government views you as suspicious, that is proof of your guilt. Thus, a “suspect” is the same as “ISIS.”

Even worse was the messaging that came from an operative with CAP, who has become a little Twitter star among the Democratic faithful for his endless Cheneyite exploitation of terrorism fears to attack Republicans and justify gun watchlists. This is how he described Feinstein’s bill:

It’s hard to put into words how appalling that is. This CAP official is not only outright lying about Feinstein’s bill: pretending that it bars “terrorists” — rather than people placed on a suspicion watchlist — from buying guns. Worse than rank dishonesty, he is literally, explicitly equating people who will be deemed suspicious by the U.S. government — overwhelmingly Muslim, needless to say — with “terrorists.” As Sam Adler-Bell put it about this tweet, “Referring to all people on the DOJ’s watchlist as ‘terrorists’ is legally incorrect and ethically ugly.” In Volsky’s mind, or at least in his propaganda, anyone deemed by the government to be suspicious is now a “terrorist” — no evidence needed, no trial held, no due process accorded.

For eight years, this mentality was the driving force behind the worst Bush/Cheney war-on-terror abuses. No matter what the extremist policy was — indefinite detention, warrantless eavesdropping, torture, no-fly lists, Guantánamo, rendition, CIA black sites — Republicans would justify it by saying it was merely being done to “terrorists” and would accuse their due process-advocating critics of wanting to “protect terrorists.” What they actually meant was that all of this was being done to people accused by the U.S. government of involvement in terrorism. But in their mind, “government accusations of terrorism” were synonymous with “proof of guilt.”

That is exactly the warped, Orwellian formulation Democrats embrace: As is extremely obvious, the Democrats’ definition of “terrorist” is “anyone whom the U.S. government suspects of being a terrorist.” Just as was true of all those GOP abuses, what makes these Democratic proposals so dangerous is that they constitute a war on the most basic right of due process. As Vox’s Dara Lind explained, “If you give the government more power to ban terrorists from having guns, you’re reinforcing the power it has to define who counts as a terrorist.” That’s why the ACLU yesterday wrote to the Senate and denounced Feinstein’s bill:

It’s tempting for some Democratic faithful to believe that their party leaders do not really believe in this blatant attack on due process, but instead are just doing this as a political tactic, a form of trolling to place Republicans in an uncomfortable position on gun control. Though believing that might make Democrats feel better, it is pure fantasy, utterly unsustainable by looking at the naked reality of the Democratic Party.

That theory might have some viability if Democrats had spent the last eight years fighting against the Bush/Cheney no-fly list and other forms of due process-free “terrorism” punishments. But the opposite is true: They have aggressively defended and expanded those policies. As The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux reported in 2014 after they obtained (and published) the U.S. government’s 166-page secret watchlist guidelines, “The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system” — ushering in massive increases in both the number of people on those lists and the ease of placing them on it.


It’s not just that there are huge numbers of people on the watchlist who have done nothing wrong. It’s much worse than that: People who are acquitted of the charges against them can and do remain on the watchlist if the FBI wants them to. As an ACLU report this year documented:

So it’s not that the Democrats have tried but were thwarted by the Big, Bad Republicans to get rid of secret watchlists, and are now using that against the GOP as some sort of genius rhetorical move. Just like George Bush and Dick Cheney did, Democrats love secret, due process-free terror watchlists. They have aggressively expanded their usage — overwhelmingly against American Muslims — and are now seeking to create a whole new list for an entirely different purpose. They’re doing this because they believe in it, and because they do not believe in due process.

But none of this should be surprising. This is who the Democratic Party is. They have proven over and over that they believe that the definition of “terrorist” is “someone whom the U.S. government suggests, in secret, might be a terrorist.”

Thus they have cheered all sorts of attacks on due process in the name of fearmongering over terrorism. Obama presided over a significant increase in mass surveillance. He has gone around the world, in at least seven predominantly Muslim countries, killing people with bombs and missiles shot by drones, then justifying it on the ground that the people he wanted to kill were terrorists. Democrats even stood and cheered as the Obama administration asserted (and exercised) the right to target U.S. citizens for execution via drone, based on nothing more than suspicion and government accusations; they even went to court to deny a father the right to have his American son have his day in court before being killed by the U.S. government.

[It should go without saying that Republicans here are no better. They watched approvingly for years as Bush and Cheney implemented this due process-free system of watchlists and secret punishments for terrorsuspects because it was predominantly affecting Muslims, and only began caring this year when their system (predictably) expanded, now to include gun rights. As I discussed last night with the ACLU’s Hina Shamsi:

Indeed, this is the 2003 document that created these secret, due process-free watchlists that Democrats have embraced and are now seeking to expand:

Moreover, for years, fearmongering about terrorism and accusing due process-advocating liberals of loving al Qaeda were staples of the GOP’s rhetoric. And GOP leaders still have not lost their touch when it comes to exploiting terror fears; just this week, Mitch McConnell plans to introduce a bill to expand secret, warrantless domestic surveillance by invoking Orlando.]

The Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of “due process” is really not that complicated: It provides that “no person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This is not some ancillary luxury; it’s one of the few genuine safeguards against tyranny. If you want to ban someone from buying a gun because you believe they’re a Terrorist or otherwise a Bad Person, then go create a procedure where the government must go to an actual court, present evidence, the accused can respond, and then a judicial ruling is issued. What kind of a person opposes that?

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

Glenn Greenwaldglenn.greenwald@ theintercept.com@ggreenwald

Oil Pipeline Spill in California!

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — Thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled Thursday from a pipeline and flowed down a ravine in Southern California but did not reach the ocean, officials said.

As much as 29,400 gallons of oil spilled and flowed a quarter- to half-mile from the spill, fire authorities said.

The line operator, Crimson Pipeline LLC, estimated that at most 25,200 gallons were released, said spokeswoman Kendall Klingler.

 The cause was under investigation, she said.

“The product has been contained and we are in cleanup and mitigation,” she said.

The spill occurred in the Hall Canyon area above the city of Ventura and flowed into the Prince Barranca, a ravine that ends at San Buenaventura State Beach near the Ventura Pier.

Fire departments responded and a pump house operating the line was shut down. Firefighters built a dam out of dirt to keep the oil from moving farther.

“It didn’t make it into the ocean,” said Ventura County fire Capt. Scott Quirarte.

The oil left a black stain down the brush- and tree-filled arroyo and did not spread elsewhere.

Initial projections that up to 210,000 gallons may have spilled were later reduced.

Quirarte said the spill was reported in a 911 call from a resident at 5:35 a.m.

Resident Kirk Atwater, 56, said he called 911 after smelling and hearing the flowing crude.

“We started getting this horrendous smell and I knew right away what it was,” he said.

Atwater said he went up the canyon on his motor scooter and found the oil gushing from an above-ground box that he surmised covers equipment.

“It was just pouring out like water coming out of a fire hydrant,” he said.

He said he found a posted phone number and reported the leak to the pipeline company.

Firefighters had a training exercise with Crimson and an oil spill cleanup company about two weeks ago, including building a dam as was done Thursday, Quirarte said.

“We train so that when there is a problem or issue we’re ready to respond,” he said.

A company press release from April said Crimson’s California network traverses about 1,000 miles and moves nearly 200,000 barrels — 8.4 million gallons — of oil daily.

The spill came 13 months after more than 120,000 gallons of oil spilled on the coast of neighboring Santa Barbara County. Some of the crude flowed into the ocean at Refugio State Beach and killed birds and sea lions.

That pipeline, owned by Plains All American Pipeline, was found to have corrosion.

Federal regulators said last month that Plains failed to prevent corrosion in its pipes, detect the rupture or respond swiftly as crude streamed toward the ocean on May 19, 2015.

The report was issued just two days after Plains was indicted in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on 46 criminal counts, including four felonies of polluting state waters and three dozen misdemeanors of harming wildlife.

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This story has been corrected with officials now saying the estimated size of spill is 29,400 gallons, after they initially estimated 210,000 gallons.