In the USA
Originally published November 17, 2012 at 5:57 PM | Page modified November 17, 2012 at 8:17 PM U.S. House sets hearing on missing war records
Subcommittee hearing follows a ProPublica-Seattle Times investigation revealing dozens of military units deployed in the war on terror have destroyed or failed to keep field reports of their activities.
By Peter Sleeth
Special to ProPublica
Missing military records from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — detailed in a ProPublica-Seattle Times investigation over Veterans Day — will be the subject of a congressional hearing next month, the spokeswoman for a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee said Friday.
Separately, Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, called on Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to respond to findings of the investigation, which detailed how dozens of Army units and U.S. Central Command destroyed or failed to keep field reports.
Michaud sits on the House Veterans Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, which added the topic to a Dec. 4 session about the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) effort to move its claims and benefit record-keeping systems into the digital era.
ProPublica and The Times found that some veterans were denied disability benefits or faced delays in some cases because field records were unavailable to prove that injuries were combat related. The stories focused on missing Army and Centcom field reports rather than those created and kept by the VA.
Michaud called for a joint study by the VA and the Pentagon into the impact of missing field records on veterans' benefit claims and the ability to study wartime health risks, such as concern about exposure to toxic particulates from open-air burn pits used to incinerate garbage in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We cannot allow these lost records to lead to the same gaps in knowledge and care that our Vietnam veterans face with Agent Orange and our First Gulf War veterans face with medically unexplained illnesses," wrote Michaud. "We need to get to the bottom of this in order to understand the full scope of the problem and ensure it doesn't happen again."
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has also asked Panetta's office to report on the status of efforts to find and collect field records from Iraq and Afghanistan. A spokesman for Murray, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, said Panetta has not yet responded.
Among the witnesses being called to the Dec. 4 hearing are representatives from the Department of Defense, the VA, the National Archives and Records Administration and veterans' advocates, a subcommittee spokeswoman said.
The final list of witnesses will be released later, but David Hobson, executive director of the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, said he had been asked to testify about specific examples of veterans who have had to deal with lost field records and the impact it had on them.
Despite assurances from the VA that veterans can work around missing field records, Hobson said, "oftentimes the other methods don't work out so well, if at all."
ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.
Originally published Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 3:34 PM Asia trip gives Obama opportunity to build legacy
With a second term now guaranteed, aides say President Obama, who kicks off his trip in Bangkok, will be a regular visitor to the entire region over the next four years as well.
By JULIE PACE
The Associated Press
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — For President Obama, expanding U.S. influence in Asia is more than just countering China or opening up new markets to American businesses. It's also about building his legacy.
Fresh off re-election, Obama will make a significant investment in that effort during a quick run through Southeast Asia that begins Sunday.
In addition to stops in Thailand and Cambodia, the president will make a historic visit to Myanmar, where his administration has led efforts to ease the once-pariah nation out of international isolation.
The trip marks Obama's fourth visit to Asia in as many years. With a second term now guaranteed, aides say Obama, who kicks off his schedule in Bangkok, will be a regular visitor to the region over the next four years as well.
"Continuing to fill in our pivot to Asia will be a critical part of the president's second term and ultimately his foreign policy legacy," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser.
The president's motivations in Asia are personal and strategic.
Obama, who was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia as a child, has called himself America's first "Pacific president." The region gives him an opportunity to open up new markets for U.S. companies, promote democracy and ease fears of China's rise by boosting U.S. military presence in Asia.
The president, like many of his predecessors, had hoped to cement his foreign-policy legacy in the Middle East. He visited two major allies in the region, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, on one of his first overseas trips as president, and he attempted to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
But those talks stalled, and fresh outbursts of violence between Israel and the Palestinians make the prospects of a peace accord appear increasingly slim.
The Obama-backed Arab Spring democracy push has had mixed results so far, with Islamists taking power in Egypt and progress in Libya tainted by the deadly attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Obama hasn't been back to the region since 2009.
In Asia, however, Obama will be viewed as something of an elder statesman when he returns less than two weeks after winning re-election. The region is undergoing significant leadership changes, most notably in China, where the Communist Party tapped new leaders last week. Japan's prime minister and South Korea's president are also stepping down soon.
"Most of the leaders he'll meet with will not have a tenure as long as he will as president," said Michael Green, an Asia scholar at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "So he'll go into this in a very strong position."
The centerpiece of Obama's whirlwind Asia tour is his visit to Myanmar. It will be the first time a U.S. president has visited there.
Myanmar has become something of a pet project for Obama and his national security aides, who have cheered the country's significant strides toward democracy. Obama lifted some U.S. penalties on Myanmar, appointed a permanent U.S. ambassador and hosted democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the White House this year.
Many of the same strategic motivations behind Obama's larger focus on Asia are at play in Myanmar.
The country long has oriented itself toward China, but the easing of sanctions gives U.S. businesses a chance to gain a foothold there. It's also an opportunity for the Obama administration to show other nations in the region, and elsewhere in the world, that there are benefits to aligning with the U.S.
Still, there's little denying that history has been a draw for Obama's team when it comes to its dealings with Myanmar. That's led to criticism from some human-rights groups that say Obama's visit is premature given the country continues to hold political prisoners and has been unable to stem some ethnic violence.
"This trip risks being an ill-timed presidential pat on the back for a regime that has looked the other way as violence rages, destroying villages and communities just in the last few weeks," said Suzanne Nossel, the U.S.-based director of Amnesty International.
Obama's other stops in the region also underscore the potential pitfalls of going all-in in Asia.
Thailand's 2006 coup, which led to the ouster of the prime minister, strained relations with the U.S. and raised questions in Washington, D.C., about the stability of its longtime regional ally. Cambodia, where Obama's visit also marks the first by a U.S. president, has a dismal human-rights record.
White House officials have emphasized that Obama is only visiting Cambodia because it is hosting the East Asia Summit, an annual meeting the U.S. attends. Aides say the president will voice his human-rights concerns during his meeting with Hun Sen, Cambodia's long-serving prime minister.
****************Republican modernizers desert Romney as GOP looks to the future
By Paul Harris, The Guardian
Saturday, November 17, 2012 21:49 EST
A succession of top Republicans have begun distancing themselves fromMitt Romney after the former presidential hopeful made a series of blunt comments about minority groups as he sought to explain why he lost the race for the White House.
Romney, who less than two weeks ago was still a real contender to be America’s next president, appears to have dramatically damaged his chances of becoming an influential party figure in the future.
Some moderate conservatives have started calling for Republicans to work harder to attract Hispanic voters, other minorities and women and to appear less extreme in some of its ideological stances such as tax cuts for the wealthy. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal even went so far as to say the party had to stop being “the stupid party”.
But on a conference call with his defeated donors last week Romney sparked outrage among many Republican figures after he appeared to say Obama had won support by “giving a lot of stuff” to some voters such as Hispanics, black Americans and young people in the form of healthcare, free contraceptives and forgiveness of college loan interests. “In each case, they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Romney said.
Those comments caused Jindal to criticise the former governor of Massachusetts in a CNN interview. “I absolutely reject that notion, that description. If you want voters to like you, the first thing you need to do is like them yourself,” Jindal said.
He was far from alone. New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte, who was once talked about as a potential Romney running mate, told MSNBC: “I don’t agree with the comments. I think the campaign is over, and what the voters are looking for us to do is to accept their votes and then go forward, and we’ve got some big challenges that need to be resolved.”
New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who caused ructions within the Romney campaign by praising President Barack Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy, also spoke to the left-leaning cable channel and pulled no punches. “You can’t expect to be a leader of all the people and [be so] divisive. Someone asked me: ‘Why did Mitt Romney lose?’ And I said: ‘Because he got less votes than Barack Obama. That’s why’,” Christie said.
As the Republican party digests its defeat by Obama, a profound debate is taking place about its future direction given the breakdown of the results. Romney won the white vote with 59%, according to exit polls, but minorities coalesced around the president with 93% of blacks and 71% of Hispanics backing Obama. The changing demographics of the US mean those minority voters are only likely to get more powerful in future elections.
The attacks on Romney are coming from people associated with an emerging, modernising wing of the Republican party who want the party to broaden its appeal and believe its recent shift to the right runs the risk of making the party far too reliant on older, white voters.
However, Romney’s comments during the donor phone call have surprised many experts. It was widely thought that Romney, who governed Massachusetts as a moderate Republican, was uncomfortable with some of the conservative positions he had to take to win his party’s 2012 nomination. But his remarks suggest that he is still going to hew to a more conservative line that echoes some of the infamous phrases he made on a secretly-taped video at a donor meeting about the “47%” of Americans who pay no income tax.
One Republican politician, Idaho congressman Raul Labrador, was brutal in his assessment of Romney’s position in the party. “He’s not going to be running for anything in the future,” he told the Washington Post.
That is true. Romney has no natural base in the Republican party, outside the world of high finance and big business. Unlike failed 2008 challenger John McCain – who remains very active in the Senate – Romney has no elected office to use as a platform. That is going to be make if difficult for Romney to influence either public opinion or Republican politicians.
Nor is he now trusted by many people on either wing of the Republican party. Moderates look set to disavow him as a divisive conservative who failed to adapt to a changed American electorate, while the right wing still sees him as an unconvincing convert to their causes.
November 17, 2012 08:00 AMWal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
By Diane Sweet
Released in theaters November 4th, 2005, WAL-MART: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE is a feature length documentary that uncovers a retail giant's assault on families and American values.
The film dives into the deeply personal stories and everyday lives of families and communities struggling to fight a goliath. A working mother is forced to turn to public assistance to provide healthcare for her two small children. A Missouri family loses its business after Wal-Mart is given over $2 million to open its doors down the road. A mayor struggles to equip his first responders after Wal-Mart pulls out and relocates just outside the city limits. A community in California unites, takes on the giant, and wins!
Producer/Director Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films take you on an extraordinary journey that will change the way you think, feel -- and shop.
If you don't already understand what's wrong with Wal-Mart, this film will fill in the blanks for you, and if you haven't already, hopefully you'll support the Wal-Mart employees as they strike on Black Friday for fair wages, and fair treatment.
The richest people in America: The owners of Wal-Mart -- six members of the Walton family -- are all on the list of Forbes 400 richest people in America. Combined, the Waltons have a net worth equal to the bottom 30 percent of all Americans. They are all children or children-in-law of the founders of Walmart. Six people. As much wealth as 30 percent of all the people in America. The Waltons are now collectively worth about $93 billion, according to Forbes.
Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the Federal government, yet the majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line.
Critics believe that Wal-Mart opens stores to saturate the marketplace and clear out the competition, and they do. Small businesses are crushed, they simply cannot compete with the chain of super stores that buy in mass quantities and sell far cheaper than an ordinary business. The small businesses go broke, and buildings are left empty.
The sentiment behind Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton's promise of a "better life for all" belies questionable business practices - many that have been challenged by employees, unions, environmentalists, recording artists and human rights organizations.
Forbes magazine, polling business executives (not employees) has ranked Wal-Mart among the best 100 corporations to work for. Yet the employees on average take home pay of under $250 a week. The salary for full-time employees (called "associates") is $6 to $7.50 an hour for 28-40 hours a week, which is typical in the discount retail industry. This pay scale places employees with families below the poverty line, with the majority of employees' children qualifying for free lunch at school. When closely examined, this amounts to a form of corporate welfare, as the taxpayer subsidizes the low salaries. One-third are part-time employees - limited to less than 28 hours of work per week - and are not eligible for benefits.
The company is staunchly anti-union. New employees are shown videotapes explaining that instead of unionizing, they benefit from the open door policy, allowing them to take their complaints beyond the supervisors to higher management. When the United Food and Commercial Workers tried to organize workers across the country, labor experts were brought in for "coaching sessions" with personnel who support unionization. Employees complained that these were intimidation sessions. Many such complaints are currently on file with the National Labor Relations Board.
A study by researchers at UC Berkeley's Labor Center has quantified what happened to retail wages when Wal-Mart set up shop, drawing on 15 years of data on actual store openings. The study found that Wal-Mart drives down wages in urban areas, with an annual loss of at least $4.7 billion dollars in earnings for retail workers.
And in 2004, a study released the UC Berkeley Labor Center found that "reliance by Wal-Mart workers on public assistance programs in California comes at a cost to taxpayers of an estimated $86 million annually; this is comprised of $32 million in health related expenses and $54 million in other assistance. Source: Ken Jacobs and Arindrajit Dube, "Hidden Costs of Wal-Mart Jobs" [PDF file], UC Berkeley Labor Center.
Wal-Mart dismissed the findings of the UC Berkeley study, "Hidden Costs of Wal-Mart Jobs," as a "union hit piece." However, text from Wal-Mart's own internal memo substantially corroborates their findings.
An excerpt from the memo states:
"We also have a significant number of Associates and their children who receive health insurance through public-assistance programs. Five percent of our Associates are on Medicaid compared to an average for national employers of 4 percent. Twenty-seven percent of Associates' children are on such programs, compared to a national average of 22 percent. In total, 46 percent of Associates' children are either on Medicaid or are uninsured."
Source: Wal-Mart Internal Memo [PDF File], via New York Times
A few statistics on exactly how many children of Wal-Mart of employees receive state-funded health care, and the cost to those states:
- FLORIDA: 12,300 WAL-MART Workers and their Dependents on Medicaid
- GEORGIA: 10,261 Children of WAL-MART Employees are Enrolled in PeachCare for Kids
- WISCONSIN: 1,252 WAL-MART Employees and Dependents on BadgerCare
Why are states subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart employees when the Walton family are all in the top ten wealthiest people in the entire nation? I'm not complaining that these families are getting health care, everyone deserves health care, but the Walton's should be ashamed that they aren't providing it.
WAL-MART Costs Taxpayers $1,557,000,000,00 to Support its Employees
"The Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce estimates that one 200-person Wal-Mart store may result in a cost to federal taxpayers of $420,750 per year - about $2,103 per employee. Specifically, the low wages result in the following additional public costs being passed along to taxpayers:
- $36,000 a year for free and reduced lunches for just 50 qualifying Wal-Mart families.
- $42,000 a year for Section 8 housing assistance, assuming 3 percent of the store employees qualify for such assistance, at $6,700 per family.
- $125,000 a year for federal tax credits and deductions for low-income families, assuming 50 employees are heads of household with a child and 50 are married with two children.
- $100,000 a year for the additional Title I expenses, assuming 50 Wal-Mart families qualify with an average of 2 children.
- $108,000 a year for the additional federal health care costs of moving into state children's health insurance programs (S-CHIP), assuming 30 employees with an average of two children qualify.
$9,750 a year for the additional costs for low income energy assistance."
The total figure is based on the average $420,750 per-store figure, multiplied by 3700 (the approximate number of stores currently in the United States).
Source: Rep. George Miller / Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, "Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart", February 16, 2004.
You can tell Wal-mart to give their employees the basic respect they deserve by signing the declaration here. Or donate to help the striking workers here, and check here for solidarity actions planned in your area here.
click to watch the whole movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jazb24Q2s94&feature=player_embedded
November 17, 2012 04:30 PMLawsuit Alleges CCA Uses Violent Gang Members To Save Money
By Susie Madrak
Just perfect. Why wouldn't they hire gangs to do their dirty work? After all, the for-profit prison industry is run by crooks. Why would the Corrections Corporation of America draw the line at working with violent criminals to save money?
A new lawsuit brought by eight inmates of the Idaho Correctional Center alleges that the company is cutting back on personnel costs by partnering with violent prison gangs to help control the facility. Court documents and an investigative report issued by the state’s Department of Corrections show how guards routinely looked the other way when gang members violated basic facility rules, negotiated with gang leaders on the cell placement of new inmates, and in one instance may have even helped one group of inmates plan a violent attack on members of a rival gang.
Rather than working with corporate headquarters or local authorities to combat the growing threat of gangs, CCA officials at the prison — the state’s largest, with more than 2,000 beds — used those same gangs as a way to control the rest of the inmates and save money:
The inmates also contend that CCA officials use gang violence and the threat of gang violence as an “inexpensive device to gain control over the inmate population,” according to the lawsuit, and that housing gang members together allows the company to use fewer guards, reducing payroll costs.
“The complaint alleges that CCA fosters and develops criminal gangs,” attorney Wyatt Johnson, who along with T.J. Angstman represents the inmates, said in a statement. “Ideally, the lawsuit should force this to come to an end.”
The CCA has operated the prison in partnership with the Idaho corrections department since 2000, at the beginning of a boom period when the number of inmates detained in CCA’s private prisons nationwide climbed nearly 50 percent between 2000 and 2009. States have invited private prison corporations to run some of their facilities as a cost-cutting measure, even though recent studies show that private prisons ultimately cost states millions more than public ones.
click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EZTJYbdQ4g4
November 17, 2012Gas Boom County Strives for Economic Afterglow
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The flames started slowly, emerging from the top of oil field equipment, and then quickly grew to a roar.
This was not an emergency, though it looked like one. It was a “burn exercise” for safety workers in the oil and gas industry, part of a new course at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.
A gas boom has brought companies and workers into parts of Pennsylvania that lie atop the Marcellus Shale formation, a rich source of both natural gas and controversy. The common economic criticism of the drilling industry is that it booms and then busts, generating few local jobs and leaving little lasting economic benefit.
But Lycoming County, in the north-central part of the state, is trying to change that.
The county and its main city, Williamsport, are working diligently to position themselves not just as a host to the arriving companies, but also as a source of local workers for the industry and a long-term beneficiary of its local and national expansion.
The industry helped give the Williamsport metropolitan area the seventh-fastest-growing economy in the United States in 2010, according to figures released last year by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. Four new hotels have been built in town, and restaurants and bars have sprouted, including a barbecue place to meet the carnivorous needs of homesick Texans and Oklahomans.
“We’re wrapping our arms around the industry,” said Williamsport’s mayor, Gabe Campana. “Drill, baby, drill!”
County officials, to help deal with the impact of the boom, examined the early effects on housing, roads, social services, and water and sewage infrastructure.
The college, part of the Pennsylvania State University system, increased efforts to train local workers, educating 7,000 students in short courses since 2009 and expanding two- and four-year degree programs as well. The initiative is part of its work with a consortium of colleges called ShaleNET, financed with a $15 million federal grant.
Thanks to such initiatives, said Kurt Hausammann, the county’s director of planning, “we are seeing more of our own Pennsylvania youth and young professionals getting into the gas industry now.”
Local businesses have also stepped up to work with the industry. The Ralph S. Alberts Company makes custom molded polymers, anything from seats for amusement park rides to medical training mannequins. “We really have been able to adapt and almost continually change our identity to keep up with whatever new technology is coming around,” said Edward Alberts, the company’s president.
When the drillers came to town, the company quickly found a way to apply its expertise to the industry’s needs, opening a business that constructs containment pens for drilling and storage equipment that are lined with heavy-duty spray-on polymer so that any spills do not contaminate the soil. The company is building the enclosures in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and drillers are talking to it about taking on jobs in Texas.
Despite the opportunities, the jobs do not suit everyone, said Westley Smith, who was raised in nearby Mifflinburg and designs critical welding processes for pipelines. Many people in the industry work six days a week, 10 hours a day, he said, and “a lot of people around here don’t typically want to do that.”
Tracy L. Brundage, Penn College’s assistant vice president for work-force and economic development, said training courses often started with an information session attended by 200 people. The instructor begins with the “work ethic components” of these jobs, including the long hours and the requirement that workers be physically fit and drug free. “By break time,” she said, “half of the room is gone.”
Evan DiCiolli, a 24-year-old Californian working on gas wells near town, said that while local residents might object to the inconveniences associated with the drilling boom, “this is calm” compared with the year he spent in North Dakota. Stores there were unable to keep the shelves stocked, he said, and men slept in their cars because hotel rooms and apartments could not be had.
Mr. DiCiolli, who was enjoying a rare night off at Bullfrog Brewery, a restaurant downtown, added of those who disapprove of the drilling going on around them: “Don’t frown on the things people do to get natural resources out of the ground when you’re using the resources.”
Environmentalists contend that state and local governments have grossly overstated the economic benefits while playing down the environmental risks of shale drilling.
Anne and Eric Nordell started their organic farm in Trout Run, 25 miles from Williamsport, in the 1980s. From the highest point on their 90 acres, one can see drilling rigs and platforms on the surrounding hills, as well as deforestation that makes way for the drilling platforms and the roads to get to them. “We’re just praying that our water will be safe,” Ms. Nordell said.
“The first indication that we have any type of contamination, we will shut down,” she added. “I eat the food that I grow, and I will not sell anything that’s unsafe.”
Ralph Kisberg, the president of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, an environmental group, said he was not trying to block the gas boom. “We know it can’t be stopped,” he said. But, he added, the state should benefit more from the removal of its resources.
A new state law, Act 13, includes fees for the industry that generated about $200 million in revenue in its first year, but that amount is expected to drop off quickly. Mr. Kisberg said the state could receive far more money over time through a direct tax on the gas itself.
Mark Price, a labor economist at the liberal-leaning Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, estimated that the industry had generated 20,000 jobs in Pennsylvania since the first quarter of 2008. While “any job over that time period is one to be lauded,” he said, the total constituted less than half a percentage point of all employment in the state.
(The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, argues that if all jobs tied to shale gas are counted, the number rises to 234,000.)
Mr. Price said he was skeptical that Pennsylvania could buffer the cycle of boom and bust, one the state had seen before with timber and coal. The area has already had a taste of what a bust might be like; natural gas prices have dropped in the past year, and drilling has slowed.
“You would think that there would be a sensitivity to this issue,” Mr. Price said. “But memories are short.”
November 17, 2012Counting the Days Till Marijuana’s Legal
By KIRK JOHNSON
SEATTLE — Stoner humor just got a lot more complicated.
Back in the days when Cheech and Chong were more risqué than wrinkled, it wafted along as one of those cultural subgenres, with its own nudge-and-wink punch lines. If you got it and laughed, you implicated yourself — and laughed again. The police mostly kept their faces straight.
But now the prospect of legalized marijuana in small amounts for personal use — approved by voters in Washington State and Colorado on Election Day — is creating a buzz of improvisation, from local law enforcement agencies up through state government.
Devising from scratch a system for legal sales and informing the public about the law are both tasks, state and local officials say, that require the turning over of a new leaf.
And the Seattle Police Department — through blog posts written by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, 29, a former crime reporter for a Seattle alternative weekly called The Stranger — is leading the charge. Bilbo Baggins from “The Lord of the Rings” lends a hand too, shown in a film clip on the police blog relishing a smokable product of uncertain provenance called Old Toby, which Bilbo says, with a blissful sigh, is “the finest weed in the South Farthing.”
The goal: official communications in language that the hip, young, urban and quite possibly stoned audience that Mr. Spangenthal-Lee wrote for at The Stranger might actually want to read.
Worried about what happens if the police pull you over after Dec. 6, when the law, I-502, takes effect, and you are sober but they smell that bag of Super Skunk in your trunk? Mr. Spangenthal-Lee’s “Marijwhatnow” post has the answer. “The smell of pot alone will not be reason to search,” he writes.
Another question: “December 6th seems like a really long ways away. What happens if I get caught with marijuana before then?”
Answer: “Hold your breath.”
Question: “SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?”
“There’s no handbook for any of this,” Mr. Spangenthal-Lee said in an interview. Meanwhile, the “Marijwhatnow” post has gone closer to viral than perhaps any official police communication in history, with 26,000 Facebook “likes” and more than 218,000 page views as of Friday.
Whether full legalization will actually occur as envisioned by the law — up to an ounce is allowed for use by an adult — is hazy. Possession remains a federal crime, but Gov. Christine Gregoire, after meeting with Justice Department officials last week, said federal prosecutors gave her no clear indication of what they would do either before or after Dec. 6.
“We are following the will of the voters and moving ahead with implementation,” Ms. Gregoire said in a statement.
“Implementation” presents some high hurdles. The law allows only one year for the state to create a system of licenses for growers, processors and sellers, and to resolve equally confusing issues like the potency levels of the various products and the prices. Teams began meeting right after the election at the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which has been assigned to create and administer a marketplace.
Mr. Spangenthal-Lee, who has been writing for the Seattle Police Department’s crime blog, SPD Blotter, since March, said he tried to imagine all the questions people would ask about the new law and then follow his own nose as a newsman in getting the answers.
Will, for example, police officers be allowed to smoke marijuana?
“As of right now, no,” he wrote.
“Marijuana legalization creates some challenges for the Seattle Police Department,” the post said, “but SPD is already working to respond to these issues head on.”
November 17, 2012Tribe Looks to End Old Exile, but Casino Plans Lead to Conflict
By DAN FROSCH
AKELA FLATS, N.M. — On a dust-swept strip of Interstate, not far from the Mexican border, sits a small rest stop where weary truckers trickle in day and night, slump down at the handful of tables inside and order a half-pound burger or a cup of coffee.
Unbeknown to many who end up here, they have happened upon the land of the Fort Sill Apache, the newest Indian reservation in the country and, at just 30 acres, the tiniest.
No tribal members live on the reservation yet. The Fort Sill Apache, who trace their lineage to Geronimo, were driven from New Mexico more than a century ago, and the largest population concentration now resides in Oklahoma. But they still consider this area their ancestral home.
Now, one year after the federal government designated the roadside plot as the tribe’s sole reservation, the Fort Sill Apache are mired in a dispute over their efforts to transform the lonesome site into a casino.
The hope, said Jeff Haozous, the tribal chairman, is that a casino will generate enough money to buy additional land and compel some of the 700 enrolled tribal members to come back.
“There is a serious difference between our situation and any other case, in that we’re returning to a place from which we’ve been exiled for over a century,” Mr. Haozous said as a customer strolled past a wall of photos showing stone-faced Apaches, some draped in traditional garb and others in stiff suits, gazing out on the room.
According to tribal history, the Fort Sill Apache descend primarily from the Warm Springs and Chiricahua Apache bands, who were held as prisoners of war by the United States government in Alabama and Florida before being moved to Fort Sill, Okla.
The tribe bought the New Mexico parcel in 1998 for $30,000, and the land was put in trust for it by the federal government in 2002.
Sitting between Tucson and El Paso on Interstate 10, the rest stop is a natural way station for travelers and has been operating as the Apache Homelands Entertainment Center since 2008.
But casino gambling on Indian lands is a highly competitive and frequently controversial business that can pit tribes against federal and state regulators — and even one another. Whether the Fort Sill Apache will get approval for a casino is unclear.
The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act largely prohibits gambling on lands acquired after Oct. 17, 1988, with certain exceptions. Previous efforts by the tribe to get approval for gambling have failed.
In 2008, believing that the National Indian Gaming Commission, which helps regulate Indian casinos, would ultimately approve their plans, the Fort Sill Apache tried to open a temporary bingo hall here.
But Bill Richardson, the governor at the time, ordered the state police to block access to the building, saying the tribe lacked the authority to operate a casino. The next year, the National Indian Gaming Commission issued a violation to the tribe for running a gambling operation on the site.
Phillip Thompson, the tribe’s lawyer, said the Fort Sill Apache had appealed the violation and contend that they should qualify for gambling based on their unique history.
“If they are not allowed to develop anything in Oklahoma or New Mexico, where is their existence?” he said, adding that the Fort Sill Apache also own a casino in Lawton, Okla., but are prohibited from acquiring additional land there without permission from three other tribes in the area.
This spring, the Fort Sill Apache also filed a gambling application with the Interior Department, which can grant an exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
A spokeswoman for the department, Nedra Darling, said it would determine whether gambling is in the tribe’s best interest and whether it would be detrimental to the surrounding area. If the application is approved, the department will also seek the support of Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, who could potentially block the casino.
So far, Ms. Martinez has opposed the idea.
“When the land was placed in trust, there was an understanding that the tribe would not take part in gaming,” Scott Darnell, a spokesman for the governor, said in an e-mail. “It was a premise of the discussion at the time and was based on representations made by the tribe.”
Reaction in New Mexico’s Indian Country, where tribes operate more than a dozen casinos, has been mixed.
The Pojoaque Pueblo wrote a letter to Mr. Haozous expressing support for the Fort Sill Apache’s “economic initiatives.” That tribe’s two casinos are some 300 miles away.
The Mescalero Apache, who operate the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort and Casino about 150 miles away, the nearest tribal gambling operation in New Mexico, are against the proposal, Mr. Haozous said.
Sandra Platero, vice president of the Mescalero, declined to comment about the issue.
In nearby Deming, some hope that the casino will provide an economic boon to Luna County, which has an unemployment rate of about 12 percent.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Linda Franklin, Deming’s mayor pro tem. “They have proven they are a tribe. They are from the area. I think we all need to live and work together.”
On Friday, the tribe held a celebration here, commemorating the first anniversary of its reservation proclamation.
Mr. Haozous said he hoped that a decision on the casino would come next year.
“This would be the achievement of a goal that has been held by the Chiricahua people since 1886, when they were removed from the Southwest,” he said. “To return home.”