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Monday, February 11, 2008

The War on Pot: America's $42 Billion Annual Boondoggle

What would you buy if you had an extra $42 billion to spend every year? What might our government buy if it suddenly had that much money dropped onto its lap every year?

For one thing, it might pay for the entire $7 billion annual increase in the State Children's Health Insurance Program that President Bush is threatening to veto because of its cost -- and there'd still be $35 billion left over.

Or perhaps you'd hire 880,000 schoolteachers at the average U.S. teacher salary of $47,602 per year.

Or give every one of our current teachers a 30 percent raise (at a cost of $15 billion, according to the American Federation of Teachers) and use what's left to take a $27 billion whack out of the federal deficit.

Or use all $42 billion for a massive tax cut that would put an extra $140 in the pockets of every person in the country -- $560 for a family of four.

The mind reels at the ways such a massive sum of money could be put to use.

Why $42 billion? Because that's what our current marijuana laws cost American taxpayers each year, according to a new study by researcher Jon Gettman, Ph.D. -- $10.7 billion in direct law enforcement costs, and $31.1 billion in lost tax revenues. And that may be an underestimate, at least on the law enforcement side, since Gettman made his calculations before the FBI released its latest arrest statistics in late September. The new FBI stats show an all-time record 829,627 marijuana arrests in 2006, 43,000 more than in 2005.

That's like arresting every man, woman and child in the state of North Dakota plus every man, woman, and child in Des Moines, Iowa on marijuana charges ... every year. Arrests for marijuana possession -- not sales or trafficking, just possession -- totaled 738,916. By comparison, there were 611,523 arrests last year for all violent crimes combined.

Basing his calculations mainly on U.S. government statistics, Gettman concludes that marijuana in the U.S. is a $113 billion dollar business. That's a huge chunk of economic activity that is unregulated and untaxed because it's almost entirely off the books.

Of course, the cost of our marijuana laws goes far beyond lost tax revenues and money spent on law enforcement. By consigning a very popular product -- one that's been used by about 100 million Americans, according to government surveys -- to the criminal underground, we've effectively cut legitimate businesspeople out of the market and handed a monopoly to criminals and gangs.

Strangely, government officials love to warn us that some unsavory characters profit off of marijuana sales, while ignoring the obvious: Our prohibitionist laws handed them the marijuana business in the first place, effectively giving marijuana dealers a $113 billion free ride.

All this might make some sense if marijuana were so terribly dangerous that it needed to be banned at all costs, but science long ago came to precisely the opposite conclusion. Compared to alcohol, for example, marijuana is astonishingly safe. For one thing, marijuana is much less addictive than alcohol, with just nine percent of users becoming dependent, as opposed to 15 percent for booze. And marijuana is much less toxic. Heavy drinking is well-documented to damage the brain and liver, and to increase the risk of many types of cancer. Marijuana, on the other hand, has never caused a medically documented overdose death, and scientists are still debating whether even heavy marijuana use causes any permanent harm at all. And then there's violence. Again, the scientific findings are overwhelming: Booze incites violence and aggression; marijuana doesn't.

Despite all that, we now arrest one American every 38 seconds on marijuana charges. And we do so at a staggering cost in law enforcement expenses, lost tax revenues, and staggering profits for criminal gangs.

The alternative is clear: Regulate marijuana just as we do beer, wine, and liquor. The only thing lacking is the political will.

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EXCLUSIVE! Pelosi & AIPAC put the Squeeze on KUCINICH!

Editor's note: 11 Feb. 2008 — Rep. Kucinich stated today that he denies the report here and that "The incident did not happen." We have contacted the source of the story and we're waiting for his response to this. When we get it, we'll post the source's answer here.

— 3 February 2008 — Exclusive to New Jersey Impeach Groups - — We received a phone call today from a source in the Kucinich for President campaign, telling us there’s more to the story of Rep. Kucinich’s withdrawal than is publicly known. The source gave us permission to publish this, but without attribution. We can say the source is high up in the campaign. Most progressives are aware there’s been a large flood of money feeding a campaign by Cleveland City Council democrat Joe Cimperman, who seeks to win the primary for Dennis Kucinich’s seat in Ohio’s 10th congressional district, where Dennis has served the interests of working people for 6 consecutive terms — since 1996. Here’s the rest of the story, untold ‘til now. — Click the KUCINICH BANNER to read the rest —

Before the Nevada primary, Dennis was visited by representatives of Nancy Pelosi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — AIPAC. They told Dennis that if he would drop his campaigns to impeach Cheney and Bush, they would guarantee his re-election to the House of Representatives.

Kucinich threw them out of his office.

Dennis now faces the toughest election campaign of his entire tenure in congress, with huge amounts of money being spent to turn his constituents against him due to “his neglect of his district while he ran for president.” Citizens should legitimately ask where Cimperman’s immense media warchest comes from.

So yes, Virginia, it is exactly as you suspected. This man the mainstream media say is not relevant, poses such a threat to the powers that be that they are hellbent to destroy him, and remove that troublemaker from congress.

It’s up to us, all who understand the crucial voice of Dennis Kucinich speaking up for justice and working to stop our country’s fall into fascist barbarity, to come forward to help him continue the peoples’ work. There’s no better time than right now, so go to CONTRIBUTE TO DENNIS KUCINICH. Help Dennis now. Help him TODAY.

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U.N. says waterboarding should be prosecuted as torture

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding and used by the United States qualifies as torture, the U.N. human rights chief said on Friday.

"I would have no problems with describing this practice as falling under the prohibition of torture," the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, told a news conference in Mexico City.

Arbour made her comment in response to a question about whether U.S. officials could be tried for the use of waterboarding that referred to CIA director Michael Hayden telling Congress on Tuesday his agency had used waterboarding on three detainees captured after the September 11 attacks.

Violators of the U.N. Convention against Torture should be prosecuted under the principle of 'universal jurisdiction' which allows countries to try accused war criminals from other nations, Arbour said.

"There are several precedents worldwide of states exercising their universal jurisdiction ... to enforce the torture convention and we can only hope that we will see more and more of these avenues of redress," Arbour said.

The U.S. Congress is considering banning the practice, in which prisoners are immobilized and water is poured into their breathing passages to simulate drowning.

Arbour referred to an arrest warrant issued in 1998 by a Spanish judge for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who died in 2006, on charges of torture, murder and kidnapping in the years that followed his 1973 coup.

Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s were known to use waterboarding on political prisoners.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Patricia Zengerle)

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Kucinich Under Fire

Cleveland, Ohio, a city which represents all of the challenges and potential of the American economy, is rightfully the focal point of the Ohio Democratic presidential primary on March 4. The candidate who can deliver an economic platform with solid programmatic initiatives for jobs, health care, education and retirement security can win the state and be on the path to the nomination. Of course, I am no longer a candidate for president. When I was continually locked out of presidential debates, it became apparent that there was no chance. At the same time, labor in Cleveland asked me to come back and defend the 10th District congressional seat.

The FEC [Federal Election Commission] reports released last week show that in the Democratic primary, I am currently being outspent by a margin of 5-1.

Corporate Cleveland has organized its considerable resources behind a candidate who has had a three-week television campaign of a “Swift-boat"-type distortion of my record. I have always felt that the seat never belonged to me, but belongs to working men and women and their families, who are entitled to representation in the Congress, especially given the corporate domination of both political parties.

It is particularly ironic to see the same Cleveland corporate development interests at work trying to take a congressional seat for their own profit, when 30 years ago they used their power to send the city of Cleveland into default over $15 million and then used the default to defeat my reelection bid as mayor! This $15-million default is now dwarfed by the handouts given to each of the same interests by the current city government. Back to the future!

What happens in Cleveland is, of course, relevant to the entire nation. Somewhere, somehow people have to win a victory over corporate control and corporate greed. Cleveland is a great place to begin. And this election is a perfect time to start.

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Obama landslides could break deadlock

Barack Obama’s landslide victories in three mid-sized states Saturday suggest that he has the opportunity to build a significant lead over Hillary Rodham Clinton among the locked-in “pledged” delegates before the candidates face off in the big battlegrounds of Ohio and Texas on March 4.

The results in Washington and Nebraska vindicated Obama’s strategy of preparing expensive efforts to organize votes after the Feb. 5 contests that many expected — wrongly — effectively to decide the race. Clinton’s campaign, meanwhile, played down its own efforts in the states, though she did air television ads in both Washington and Nebraska.

Obama also won in Louisiana, buoyed by taking nearly 90 percent of the support of black voters, according to exit polls. And he won overwhelmingly in the U.S. Virgin Islands, winning all three of the territory’s pledged delegates.

In squeezing every delegate out of the small and mid-sized states between now and March 4, and every dollar out of his supporters, Obama is hoping to build a head of steam this month that will make him unstoppable and will lure free-floating superdelegates to his camp.

Clinton, meanwhile, aims to keep the debate national in scope and sharply competitive in the national media, if not on the ground in the primary states.

Though turnout in the Washington and Nebraska caucuses overwhelmed the state parties, the raw numbers of voters were relatively small: About 40,000 people, in total, participated in the Nebraska caucus.

But in what was a test of enthusiasm and organization, Obama showed an ability not just to win but also to rack up the landslide margins necessary to build a delegate lead. He seemed set to gain on Clinton by a margin of well over 40 delegates Saturday night, according to preliminary estimates. (A Democratic candidate needs 2,025 delegates to claim the nomination.)

“Today, voters from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast to the heart of America stood up to say that it is time to turn the page,” Obama told the Virginia Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Richmond, according to his prepared remarks. He told the gathering that he represents “real change” and touted his appeal to independent voters.

Clinton, meanwhile, didn’t congratulate Obama in her speech to the Richmond gathering earlier in the evening. Instead, she continued to draw sharp contrasts with her rival, and associated him with the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“I am the only candidate left in this race, Democrat or Republican, with a health-care plan to cover every single man, woman and child,” she said.

Her campaign also sought to introduce a measure of good news by releasing word, as polls closed in Louisiana, that she had raised $10 million from more than 100,000 donors this month.

Obama’s campaign shot back that more than 350,000 donors have given him money this year.

Though high turnout and a surge of new voters have been regular features of this primary cycle, they still seemed to strain untested primary and caucus systems in states unused to being the focus of national attention.

In Louisiana, the Obama campaign complained of “irregularities” after, it said, Democrats claiming their party registration had been switched were not permitted to cast provisional ballots.

However, it was unclear whether Obama's supporters had actually registered as Democrats and were turned away improperly, or were in fact independents and unable to vote in the primary.

And in Washington, caucusgoers cited “pandemonium” and “chaos” in flooded caucus sites, prompting the editor of The Stranger, the alternative weekly newspaper in Seattle, to compare the scene to a horror movie.

“The gym at Stevens Elementary right now resembles the Brooklyn Bridge scene in Cloverfield — only without the promise of giant, derivative monster showing up to put Capitol Hill caucus-goers out of our misery,” the editor, Dan Savage, wrote on the newspaper’s blog [LINK:] Saturday.

“And instead of bloodied hipsters asking each other ‘What the hell is that?’ over and over again, it’s roughly 1500 people wearing tasteful scarfs asking each other, ‘Where the hell is the line for my precinct table?’”

The two candidates, meanwhile, spent parts of Saturday in Maine, preparing for a hard-fought caucus. Observers there had one eye to the weather, which threatens snow — offering an edge to the candidate with the most devoted supporters.

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FBI’s Billion Dollar Big Brother

Does this sound like a good thing or a bad thing, Winston?

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