MintPress News http://www.mintpressnews.com Independent, non-partisan journalism Wed, 23 Apr 2014 02:50:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Independent, non-partisan journalism Mint Press News clean Mint Press News mmuhawesh@mintpressnews.com mmuhawesh@mintpressnews.com (Mint Press News) All Rights Reserved Independent, non-partisan journalism MintPress News http://www.mintpressnews.com/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/MintPressLogo_iTUNES.jpg http://www.mintpressnews.com A Very 4/20 Easter http://www.mintpressnews.com/189447/189447/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=189447 http://www.mintpressnews.com/189447/189447/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 02:49:24 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189447 If history is any indication, passing a blunt over Passover or enjoying a joint before noshing on an Easter ham may not be so sacrilegious, after all.
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Rethinking Pot 4/20

Partygoers listen to live music and smoke pot on the second of two days at the annual 4/20 marijuana festival in Denver, Sunday April 20, 2014. (AP/Brennan Linsley)

Millions of Christians around the world celebrated the death and resurrection of their lord and savior, Jesus Christ, on Sunday. The reputed son of God, anti-Roman rabble rouser and all-around nice guy was crucified to pay for the sins of humanity, according to Christian belief, but it’s more likely that he was executed on trumped-up charges by Roman and Jewish authorities made uncomfortable by his revolutionary preaching.

In America, we celebrate this august event by putting on our best springtime attire, going to mass and, later, hunting for chocolates and colored eggs left by a magical bunny.

Given that this year the highest of high holy Christian holidays fell on 4/20 — the unofficial marijuana holiday named after the police code for the illegal weed — those chocolates and the the obligatory Easter ham may have come in handy for those who celebrated both. While pot is generally frowned upon by those most likely to celebrate Easter, an examination of the issue actually reveals that passing the blunt over Passover, which overlapped 4/20 and Easter, might not be such sacrilege after all.

Indeed, some argue that Jesus himself might have toked up once or twice in the course of his ministry. This argument is based partly on the fact that both cannabis and its derivative products — especially cannabis oil — were commonly used for both religious and medical purposes throughout much of the ancient world, including the ancient Near East. Hebrews living in Jesus’ time, experts say, would have been readily familiar with such substances and would have used them in anointing oils that would have permeated the skin and entered the bloodstream after being applied.

The effects that such anointing are perhaps better left to the imagination, but the use of what we would refer to today as illegal or controlled substances such as cannabis, opiates and hallucinogens like peyote and certain mushrooms, were often used in religious rites specifically to trigger mystical experiences. Peyote, for example, was long used by Native Americans for just such purposes, and there are references to the use of other mind-altering substances in other cultures and places — including, again, the ancient Near East and that religious book par excellence, the Bible.

 

Anointing oils and the use of cannabis

While the ingestion of such substances might help readers take many Old Testament tales seriously, there are, in fact, curious connections between drugs and various Biblical stories, like Exodus 30:23. In Moses’ famous encounter with the burning bush, for instance, he sees God commanding him to make anointing oil out of myrrh, cinnamon and “250 shekels (about six pounds) of keneh bosem” mixed into a gallon or so of olive oil. The mysterious keneh bosem, it turns out, is the Hebrew root word from which the word cannabis may have been derived.

This practice of using keneh bosem oil in ancient Hebrew rites — including those to anoint kings — apparently lasted until the time of Jeremiah, when the prophet’s more conservative preaching led to its ultimate abandonment. This is most likely not coincidental, as Jeremiah’s time coincided with both political crisis and external conflict that led to the collapse of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the exiling and dispersal of its priestly elite to Babylon and beyond. Blaming defeat and national decline on drugs, it would seem, has a long tradition.

Curiously, the practice of using cannabis oil in anointments and rituals was not taken up again until the time of the early Christians — many of whom converted from Jewish sects that sought a return to earlier, more fundamental tenets of their faith at the time of the Roman occupation. As an itinerant revivalist set on bringing his people back into the fold, Jesus was surely well aware of these ancient recipes referred to in what we now call the Old Testament. He may have also been tempted to use them in the course of his ministry, even if merely to demonstrate his bona fides as someone conversant in and loyal to the founding beliefs, practices and traditions of his faith.

 

Working miracles with marijuana — maybe

If Jesus was aware of cannabis oil and used it, how might he have used it and for what purpose? The obvious candidate here is in the realm of healing, an area in which Jesus became a well-known miracle worker. Magical God-power is, of course, the preferred explanation for his curing of the blind, the lepers and the dead, but it is quite possible that anointing oils with a high enough content of THC — the chemical in cannabis responsible for its narcotic effects — could have had a medical effect. Today, of course, we know that high enough doses of THC can have a meaningful impact on all sorts of disorders and ailments — including, interestingly enough, skin diseases (leprosy), glaucoma (blindness), multiple sclerosis and various neurodegenerative conditions that might have looked like paralysis and death to the ancients.

All this is speculative, of course, and mainstream Biblical scholars are quick to point out that the plant referred to in Exodus might not have been cannabis and that there is no direct evidence that Jesus ever used either cannabis or cannabis oil at any point in his life. Certainly, there is no passage in the Bible that one can point to that says indisputably that Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes because he and his followers had the munchies after getting seriously baked. Still, it is an interesting set of possibilities that sheds light on what Jesus’ relationship with such substances might have been.

Religious adherence in general must take things on faith, but given evidence that is even paltrier than this string of suppositions, is it really so out of the question that the so-called “son of man” may have toked up enough or sloshed around in so much cannabis oil that he thought he could walk on water or raise the dead? Might not his conversations with the devil in the desert have been a Burning Man-like encounter with Moses’ burning bush? Facing his impending arrest and execution in the garden at Gethsemane, might he not have used a little chemical fortitude when faced with the certainty of an agonizing death the next day?

Maybe or maybe not, but people who believe in talking snakes and that Adam and Eve rode on the backs of dinosaurs should not be quick to offer judgment one way or the other.

Still, the slightest possibility that Jesus might have used cannabis in some way should be on our minds when considering the injustice of our evil, draconian marijuana laws. If Jesus used cannabis and was alive today, he might very well find himself locked away in prison rather than performing miracles and preaching the good news of our universal salvation. At the very least, he would likely be horrified by the way we have for so long neurotically demonized a plant that, at its worst, is no more dangerous than alcohol — a substance Jesus was known to imbibe and miraculously produce from time to time.

So, when it comes to deciding on issues of legality and justice in our ongoing debate on marijuana reform, consider the above and think hard about what Jesus might have done. If the plant was possibly good enough for the supposed son of God, does it really make sense to keep it locked away and out of the reach of law-abiding citizens? Is it merciful to take entire generations of young people from some of our poorest, most oppressed communities and imprison them en masse because of a weed? If Jesus was really as good as everyone says he was, it seems doubtful that he would very look kindly on such practices.

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Court Won’t Hear Fla. Employee Drug Testing Rule http://www.mintpressnews.com/court-wont-hear-fla-employee-drug-testing-rule/189432/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=court-wont-hear-fla-employee-drug-testing-rule http://www.mintpressnews.com/court-wont-hear-fla-employee-drug-testing-rule/189432/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 17:51:18 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189432 Since 2011, Rick Scott has been trying to mandate random drug tests for some 85,000 state workers, but the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal. Continue reading

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In this May 16, 2012 file photo, Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks in Fort Lauderdale. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter, File)

In this May 16, 2012 file photo, Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks in Fort Lauderdale. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter, File)

MIAMI  — The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal by Florida Gov. Rick Scott on his 2011 executive order that would have required random drug tests for as many as 85,000 state workers.

The ruling lets stand an appeals court decision that Scott’s order was too broad. That decision also directed a Miami federal judge to oversee ongoing negotiations between the state and an employee union over which positions could be subjected to random drug tests.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal follows a similar decision in late December by a federal judge in Orlando who struck down a Florida law requiring applicants for welfare benefits to undergo mandatory drug testing. Scott, a Republican, is also appealing that case.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which challenged both drug-testing plans as unconstitutional, said federal courts have clearly rejected blanket mandatory drug testing by the state.

“The question of whether the state has the power to compel all employees to submit to suspicionless searches without good reason is settled and the answer is no,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal, the lead ACLU attorney in the state employees case.

The ACLU represents the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 79, which covers about 34,000 of the state workers that Scott originally sought to subject to random drug testing. Agarwal said negotiations with state officials have whittled the number of the union-covered state jobs still at issue for drug testing to about 23,500.

It could take another 10 months to finish that process, she added. By then, voters will have decided whether to give Scott another four years in office or replace him with a Democrat, either former Gov. Charlie Crist or former state Sen. Nan Rich.

Scott issued a statement saying state employees “should have the right to work in a safe and drug free environment, just like in any other business.” The governor noted that portions of the case are still being debated in Miami federal court and that he would “continue to fight” for expanded employee drug testing.

Meanwhile, the governor’s office has a May 5 deadline to file its appeal in the welfare benefits drug-testing case with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ACLU has filed a public records request seeking how much the state has been spending on the twin drug-testing cases. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said it’s likely to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It’s time for Gov. Scott to cut his losses and face the facts: government can’t subject entire classes of people to urinalysis without reasonable suspicion or a genuine threat to public safety,” Simon said.

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US Drones Continue ‘Massive’ Operations In Third Day of Attacks http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-drones-continue-massive-operations-third-day-attacks/189422/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-drones-continue-massive-operations-third-day-attacks http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-drones-continue-massive-operations-third-day-attacks/189422/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:48:34 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189422 A flurry of deadly strikes continues. Continue reading

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(US Air Force photo/Tech Sgt Efren Lopez)

(US Air Force photo/Tech Sgt Efren Lopez)

A suspected U.S. drone strike hit Yemen on Monday morning, the third such attack in as many days, killing people described as “militants” as part of “massive and unprecedented” operations targeting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

According to reporting by the Associated Press, the most recent strike “targeted the mountainous area of Mahfad between the provinces of Abyan and Shabwa,” located in the southern part of the impoverished country.

Neither the number of casualties nor who they are is clear at this point.

An unnamed, “high-level Yemeni government official” told CNN that a “massive and unprecedented” scale of operations targeting AQAP was underway.

The day’s attack follows a weekend of U.S. strikes on the country. On Saturday at least 15 people were either killed or wounded, including at least three civilians, when a missile from a U.S. drone struck vehicles traveling on a road in the central province of al-Bayda, and on Sunday a separate attack killed 55 “militants,” the Yemeni ministry now says.

U.S. and Yemeni officials told NBC News Monday that the series of attacks was the result of a joint operation by the two countries.

 

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Navajo Advocates Make Push For Junk Food Tax http://www.mintpressnews.com/navajo-advocates-make-push-junk-food-tax/189411/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=navajo-advocates-make-push-junk-food-tax http://www.mintpressnews.com/navajo-advocates-make-push-junk-food-tax/189411/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:36:43 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189411 FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Facing a high prevalence of diabetes, many American Indian tribes are returning to their roots with community and home gardens, cooking classes that incorporate traditional foods, and running programs to encourage healthy lifestyles. The latest effort … Continue reading

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(Photo/Cory Doctorow via Flickr)

(Photo/Cory Doctorow via Flickr)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Facing a high prevalence of diabetes, many American Indian tribes are returning to their roots with community and home gardens, cooking classes that incorporate traditional foods, and running programs to encourage healthy lifestyles.

The latest effort on the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest reservation, is to use the tax system to push people to ditch junk food.

Navajo President Ben Shelly earlier this year vetoed measures to enact a 2 percent sales tax on tax on chips, cookies and sodas, and to eliminate the tax on fresh fruit and vegetables. This week, tribal lawmakers have a chance to resurrect the proposals, and supporters are optimistic they’ll be among the first in the country to succeed.

Elected officials across the country have taken aim at sugary drinks with proposed bans, size limits, tax hikes and warning labels, though their efforts have yet to gain widespread traction. In Mexico, lawmakers approved a junk food tax and a tax on soft drinks last year as part of that government’s campaign to fight obesity.

Shelly said he supports the intent of the proposals on the Navajo Nation but questioned how the higher tax on snacks high in fat, sugar and salt would be enacted and regulated. Supporters of the tax say it is another tool in their fight for the health of the people.

“If we can encourage our people to make healthier choices and work on the prevention side, we increase the life span of our children, we improve their quality of life,” said professional golfer Notah Begay III, who is among supporters.

American Indians and Alaska Natives as a whole have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among U.S. racial and ethnic groups, according to the American Diabetes Association. They are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have the disease that was the fourth leading cause of death in the Navajo area from 2003 to 2005, according to the Indian Health Service.

Native children ages 10 to 19 are nine times as likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the IHS said.

The proposed Navajo Nation tax wouldn’t add significantly to the price of junk food, but buying food on the reservation presents obstacles that don’t exist in most of urban America. The reservation is a vast 27,000 square miles with few grocery stores and a population with an unemployment rate of around 50 percent. Thousands of people live without electricity and have no way of storing perishable food items for too long.

“They have a tendency to purchase what’s available, and it’s not always the best food,” said Leslie Wheelock, director of tribal relations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wheelock said the diabetes issue in tribal communities is one that has been overlooked in the past or not taken as seriously as it could be. It has roots in the federal government taking over American Indian lands and introducing food that tribal members weren’t used to, she said.

To help remedy that, the USDA runs a program that distributes nutritional food to 276 tribes. Grants from the agency have gone toward gardening lessons for children within the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, culturally relevant exercise programs for the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota and food demonstrations using fresh fruit and vegetables on the Zuni reservations in New Mexico.

The Dine Community Advocacy Alliance, which has been pushing for the Navajo Nation junk food tax, estimates it will result in at least $1 million a year in revenue that could go toward wellness centers, community parks, walking trails and picnic grounds in tribal communities in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. It would expire at the end of 2018.

Tribal lawmakers will vote this week on overturning Shelly’s vetoes. Regardless of whether that legislation passes, “we have to keep stepping up to the plate,” alliance member Gloria Begay said.

No other sales tax on the Navajo Nation specifically targets the spending habits of consumers. Alcohol is sold in a few places on the reservation but isn’t taxed. Retailers and distributors pay a tobacco tax.

Opponents of the junk food tax argue it would burden customers and drive revenue off the reservation. Mike Gardner, executive director of the Arizona Beverage Association, said the lack of specifics in the legislation as to what exactly will be taxed could mean fruit juice and nutritional shakes would be lumped in the same category as sodas.

“I don’t think they mean that, but that’s what will happen,” Gardner said. “It’s a little loose, a little vague. It’s going to create problems for retailers and … it doesn’t solve the problem.”

 

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Spain’s ‘Robin Hood’ Funded Anti-Capitalist Movement with Bank Swindle http://www.mintpressnews.com/spains-robin-hood-funded-anti-capitalist-movement-bank-swindle/189405/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=spains-robin-hood-funded-anti-capitalist-movement-bank-swindle http://www.mintpressnews.com/spains-robin-hood-funded-anti-capitalist-movement-bank-swindle/189405/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:36:05 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189405 In recent interviews from the lam, Enric Duran predicts 'transformation of the state and capitalism as we know it today' Continue reading

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Enric Duran

Enric Duran in 2010. (Photo: Joseba Barrenetxea Altuna/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)

Though living on the lam after swindling almost half a million euros from banks across Spain, Enric Duran—the notorious “Robin Hood of Spain”—said he is still dedicated to fighting capitalism.

In an exclusive Skype interview from an undisclosed location, the anti-capitalist activist from Catalan told the Guardian that he was “proud” of his action, saying that the money that he farmed out to social causes working against capitalism “generated a movement.”

Between 2006 and 2008, Duran took out 68 commercial and personal loans amounting to €492,000 (or roughly $678,00) from 39 banks in Spain. Never intending to repay the loans, Duran instead used the money to help fund those speaking out against capitalism. According to the Guardian, Duran’s protest “pushed the anti-capitalist movement into the light, just as many Spaniards were seeking alternatives to a system that had wreaked havoc on their lives.”

“I saw that on one side, these social movements were building alternatives but that they lacked resources and communication capacities,” Duran said. “Meanwhile, our reliance on perpetual growth was creating a system that created money out of nothing.”

The money Duran gave, he said, “generated a movement” by allowing those fighting against capitalism “to push forward with the construction of alternatives” and “build a powerful network that groups together these initiatives.”

After being arrested in 2009 on charges brought against him by six of the lenders, Duran spent two months in prison before posting the €50,000 bail. In February 2013, Duran opted to flee Spain rather than stand trial and has been living and operating from underground.

In another recent interview with Shareable, Duran discussed his famous act of disobedience and how that fueled his current activism, most notably the founding of the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC)—which describes itself as a “transitional initiative for social transformation from below, through self-management, self-organization, and networking”—in May 2010.

“We understand that the current political system—what they call democracy but which is actually dominated by small political and economic oligarchies—is antiquated,” Duran told Shareable founder Neal Gorenflo in March.

“Currently, the capitalist system produces market conditions that help create ever greater inequalities,” he continued, “providing competitive advantages which favor the big players over the small, effectively preventing the latter from staying in the game and trading freely. The market, in the context of the state and capitalism, has become an excuse to promote and extend inequality.”

Looking forward, Duran added, “I’m convinced that we will live through a transformation of the state and capitalism as we know it today, consolidating other ways of being in society and establishing more supportive and cooperative economic relationships.”

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Teen Stowaway Shows Holes In Vast Airport Security http://www.mintpressnews.com/teen-stowaway-shows-holes-vast-airport-security/189408/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=teen-stowaway-shows-holes-vast-airport-security http://www.mintpressnews.com/teen-stowaway-shows-holes-vast-airport-security/189408/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:28:16 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189408 KAHULUI, Hawaii — Surveillance cameras at San Jose International Airport successfully captured the teenager on the tarmac, climbing up the landing gear of a jet. But in the end, the cameras failed because no one noticed the security breach until … Continue reading

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People make their way into Terminal A at Mineta San Jose International Airport near the Hawaiian Airlines gates Monday, April 21, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. A 16-year-old boy scrambled over a fence at the airport, crossed a tarmac and climbed into a jetliner's wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii, Sunday. FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen did not remember the flight from San Jose. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

People make their way into Terminal A at Mineta San Jose International Airport near the Hawaiian Airlines gates Monday, April 21, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. A 15-year-old boy scrambled over a fence at the airport, crossed a tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii, Sunday. FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen did not remember the flight from San Jose. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

KAHULUI, Hawaii — Surveillance cameras at San Jose International Airport successfully captured the teenager on the tarmac, climbing up the landing gear of a jet. But in the end, the cameras failed because no one noticed the security breach until the plane — and the boy — landed in Hawaii.

Although the 15-year-old apparently wanted nothing more than to run away, his success in slipping past layers of security early Sunday morning made it clear that a determined person can still get into a supposedly safe area and sneak onto a plane.

Video surveillance can help catch trespassers. Some airports use not just human eyes watching video screens, but also technology that can be programmed to sound an alert when a camera captures something potentially suspicious. But just because something is caught on camera does not mean it will make an impression.

Despite great promise, “sometimes the actual results are quite underwhelming when it gets to the real world, where people are fatigued, people are preoccupied,” said Richard Bloom, an airport security expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. “There’s no way to guarantee security, even if you had one person per video screen.”

There were no obvious efforts Monday to increase security or the police presence at airports in San Jose or Maui. In San Jose, airport officials said they were reviewing how the boy slipped through security that includes video surveillance, German shepherds and Segway-riding police officers.

While each of those measures can work for certain situations, “the problem is that each layer has its own error factor,” Bloom said.

Nobody monitoring security cameras throughout the 1,050-acre airport saw anyone approaching the Boeing 767 until they reviewed the footage after the boy was discovered in Hawaii, San Jose airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said. The airport, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is surrounded by fences, although many sections do not have barbed wire and could easily be scaled.

Barnes said the boy went onto the tarmac when it was still dark. The flight took off at about 8 a.m. PDT, about 90 minutes after sunrise.

The boy was knocked out most of the 5 1/2-hour flight and didn’t regain consciousness until an hour after the plane landed in Hawaii, FBI spokesman Tom Simon said. When he came to, he climbed out of the wheel well and was immediately seen by Maui airport personnel, Simon said.

Surveillance video at Kahului Airport showed the boy getting out of the wheel well after landing, transportation officials in Hawaii said. The video was not released because of the ongoing investigation.

The boy was not charged with a crime, Simon said.

While the Transportation Security Administration oversees checkpoint security inside airport terminals, airport perimeters are policed by local authorities and federal law enforcement.

Airport police were working with the FBI and TSA to review security.

San Jose police said they will forward the findings of their investigation to the district attorney, who can decide whether to file criminal charges in California. Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said the county was not involved with the incident or investigation because the state runs the airports.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation said they didn’t plan to investigate further after turning the boy over to state human services, where officials were working to reunite the boy with his family.

Isaac Yeffet, a former head of security for the Israeli airline El Al who now runs his own firm, Yeffet Security Consultants, said the breach shows that U.S. airport security still has weaknesses, despite billions of dollars invested.

“Shame on us for doing such a terrible job,” he said. “Perimeters are not well protected. We see it again and again.”

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who serves on the Homeland Security committee, said on Twitter that the incident demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.

The FAA says about one-quarter of the 105 stowaways who have sneaked aboard flights worldwide since 1947 have survived. Some wheel-well stowaways survived deadly cold and a lack of oxygen because their breathing, heart rate and brain activity slow down.

 

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US Weighs Curbing Deportations http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-weighs-curbing-deportations/189401/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-weighs-curbing-deportations http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-weighs-curbing-deportations/189401/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:15:03 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189401 WASHINGTON  — Tens of thousands of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally but don’t have serious criminal records could be shielded from deportation under a policy change being weighed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. The change, if adopted … Continue reading

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Upset with President Barack Obama's immigration policy, about 250 people march to the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office with a goal of stopping future deportations on Monday Oct. 14, 2013, in Phoenix.  The protesters chanted "no more deportations" and "shut down ICE." (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Upset with President Barack Obama’s immigration policy, about 250 people march to the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office with a goal of stopping future deportations on Monday Oct. 14, 2013, in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

WASHINGTON  — Tens of thousands of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally but don’t have serious criminal records could be shielded from deportation under a policy change being weighed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The change, if adopted following a review ordered by President Barack Obama, could limit removals of people who have little or no criminal record but have committed repeat immigration violations such as re-entering the country illegally after having been deported, or failing to comply with a deportation order.

The possible move, confirmed by two people with knowledge of the review, would fall short of the sweeping changes sought by activists. They want Obama to expand a two-year-old program that grants work permits to certain immigrants brought here illegally as children to include other groups, such as the parents of any children born in the U.S.

John Sandweg, who until February served as acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said he had promoted the policy change for immigrants without serious criminal records before his departure and said it was being weighed by Johnson. An immigration advocate who has discussed the review with the administration also confirmed the change was under consideration. The advocate spoke on condition of anonymity because the proceedings are confidential.

“Any report of specific considerations at this time would be premature,” Clark Stevens, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, said Monday. Stevens said Johnson “has undergone a very rigorous and inclusive process to best inform the review,” including seeking input from people within DHS as well as lawmakers of both parties and other stakeholders.

The approach outlined by Sandweg and the immigration advocate would change the existing priority categories that now include immigrants who have re-entered the country after having been deported previously, and those who are fugitives from immigration proceedings. Such people would be taken off the priority list.

The remaining priority categories focus on recent border-crossers and immigrants who pose a danger to national security or public safety or who have been convicted of crimes. Some of those categories might also be refined or changed, and others could be added.

“The time had come to focus ICE’s efforts exclusively on public safety and national security,” Sandweg said in explaining why he pushed for the change. He estimated that some 20,000 deported immigrants fell into the categories in question last year.

The potential changes come as Johnson proceeds with a review ordered by Obama on how to make deportation policy more humane. With comprehensive immigration legislation stalled in the Republican-led House after passing the Senate last year, Obama has come under intense election-year pressure to stem deportations, which have neared 2 million on his watch, and allow more of the 11.5 million immigrants living here illegally to stay.

Many activists want sweeping action by Obama to give legal certainty and work permits to millions more immigrants, like he did for those who arrived illegally as children and attended school or served in the military.

It’s not clear whether the administration ultimately will take such steps. Obama has said repeatedly his options are limited without action by Congress.

“The only way to truly fix it is through congressional action. We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could,” Obama said last week at a news conference. “We’re going to review it one more time to see if there’s more that we can do.”

For now, administration officials appear focused on more limited, near-term steps that could still make a difference for the immigrant population, according to lawmakers and activists who’ve met with administration officials.

Adjusting the department’s priorities for deportation is one such approach. Depending on how it’s done, it could have a significant impact by providing new guidance to ICE agents on the front lines. Activists want more wholesale changes; some say ICE agents don’t always follow the priorities set by the administration.

At the same time, Obama would likely face GOP wrath for taking even the smallest steps toward providing relief to people in this country illegally. Republicans already accuse Obama’s administration of subverting the law through previous moves to give “prosecutorial discretion” to immigration agents.

 

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A Little-Known Toxic Threat ‘Underfoot’ In North Carolina http://www.mintpressnews.com/little-known-toxic-threat-underfoot-north-carolina/189400/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=little-known-toxic-threat-underfoot-north-carolina http://www.mintpressnews.com/little-known-toxic-threat-underfoot-north-carolina/189400/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:13:49 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189400 Coal ash used as landfill is a 'silent, lurking issue that’s not getting any attention'. Continue reading

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coal ash

Amy Adams, NC Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, holds sediment covered in fine, gray coal ash upstream of the drinking water intake in Danville, VA, approximately 20 miles downstream of the Dan River ash spill (Photo: Eric Chance / Appalachian Voices)

North Carolina residents do not know the extent of a toxic mess that has been buried under their feet in dozens of locations around the state.

Coal ash, the murky and toxic waste created by the coal industry, made headlines in February when a containment pond spilled into North Carolina’s Dan River, contaminating waterways at untold levels and putting a national spotlight on the issue of coal ash ponds and the extreme lack of regulation over coal ash disposal.

However, as the Charlotte Observer reported Sunday, the problems with this toxic waste go even deeper.

Buried underground in dozens of sites across North Carolina are massive amounts of coal ash that have been used as fill to level ground and fill gullies—over which roads, parking lots and buildings have been built.

“State standards are so minimal that even property owners, much less their neighbors, might not know what’s underfoot,” reports the Charlotte Observer. “And while ash has a known ability to contaminate groundwater, fill sites are rarely tested.”

Those underground troves have been largely unregulated over the years. However, like the coal ash ponds that are used to store the waste, these fill sites do not use liners to keep the coal ash from mixing with soil and groundwater.

The Charlotte Observer reports:

At least 1.8 million cubic yards of dry ash are buried in nearly two dozen places around Charlotte, not counting power plants. That’s enough to cover 1,100 acres a foot deep in ash.

An unknown amount of wet ash, removed from ponds and regulated separately, was also used as fill material. The state can’t locate records before 2011 that would show where or how large those sites are.

There are likely to be at least 77 fill sites across the state.

At one fill site, nearby groundwater has shown high levels of barium, arsenic and lead for the past six years, for which the site’s owner has only been fined $4,000. A similar case arose at a site in Northampton County, in which the owner was fined $13,875.

In 2009, during one of the most recent rounds of state inspections, regulators found 15 fill sites breaking rules, with six locations flouting regulations meant to keep the ash from reaching water.

“There’s absolutely no oversight of these structural fills and that seems problematic,” Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat who has pushed legislation to tighten ash rules since 2009, told the Charlotte Observer. “It’s sort of a silent, lurking issue that’s not getting any attention.”

Since February’s massive spill into the Dan River, critics have pointed to the state’s extreme lack of regulation over the coal industry, including energy giants such as Duke Energy.

Residents and environmental groups say the Dan River spill is just the latest incident in the company’s long history of pollution.

Dennis Lemly, a research biologist with Wake Forest University and the U.S. Forest Services told the Charlotte Observer that ash fill sites, though historically receiving even less attention, pose the same hazards as ash ponds.

Last week, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory—who worked at Duke Energy for 28 years—released a “Comprehensive Coal Ash Action Plan” he claims would “close loopholes in state law to strengthen the state’s ability to regulate coal ash ponds.”

However, environmental groups were quick to point out that the legislation “categorically fails to live up to the hype and meaningfully protect North Carolinians from poisoned drinking water as well as another tragic and toxic coal ash spill.”

“CCAAP would allow Duke Energy to continue poisoning North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia drinking water sources with a witch’s brew of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium because it allows Duke Energy to cover up coal ash ponds with dirt and leave them unattended and unmonitored on the banks of nearby rivers and lakes,” a press release from the groups states. “The bill is a tremendous waste of time when people and the environment are threatened throughout the state. NC citizens desperately need real solutions – not a papering over of the problem.”

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High Court Upholds Michigan Affirmative Action Ban http://www.mintpressnews.com/high-court-upholds-michigan-affirmative-action-ban/189395/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-court-upholds-michigan-affirmative-action-ban http://www.mintpressnews.com/high-court-upholds-michigan-affirmative-action-ban/189395/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:10:30 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189395 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Michigan’s ban on using race as a factor in college admissions. The justices said in a 6-2 ruling that Michigan voters had the right to change their state constitution in 2006 to … Continue reading

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In this photo taken Oct. 23, 2013, University of Washington students walk on the campus between classes in Seattle. Some of Washington’s colleges and universities have been celebrating their decision not to raise tuition this fall, but they actually didn’t have a choice. The Legislature mandated a one-year tuition freeze as part of its state budget deal. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

In this photo taken Oct. 23, 2013, University of Washington students walk on the campus between classes in Seattle.  (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Michigan’s ban on using race as a factor in college admissions.

The justices said in a 6-2 ruling that Michigan voters had the right to change their state constitution in 2006 to prohibit public colleges and universities from taking account of race in admissions decisions. The justices said that a lower federal court was wrong to set aside the change as discriminatory.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said voters chose to eliminate racial preferences, presumably because such a system could give rise to race-based resentment.

Kennedy said nothing in the Constitution or the court’s prior cases gives judges the authority to undermine the election results.

“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it,” Kennedy said.

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the decision tramples on the rights of minorities, even though the amendment was adopted democratically. “But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups,” said Sotomayor, who read her dissent aloud in the courtroom Tuesday. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sided with Sotomayor in dissent.

At 58 pages, Sotomayor’s dissent was longer than the combined length of the four opinions in support of the outcome.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas agreed with Kennedy.

Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the case, presumably because she worked on it at an earlier stage while serving in the Justice Department.

In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the consideration of race among many factors in college admissions in a case from Michigan.

Three years later, affirmative action opponents persuaded Michigan voters to change the state constitution to outlaw any consideration of race.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the issue was not affirmative action, but the way in which its opponents went about trying to bar it.

In its 8-7 decision, the appeals court said the provision ran afoul of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment because it presents an extraordinary burden to affirmative action supporters who would have to mount their own long, expensive campaign to repeal the constitutional provision.

Similar voter-approved initiatives banning affirmative action in education are in place in California and Washington state. A few other states have adopted laws or issued executive orders to bar race-conscious admissions policies.

Black and Latino enrollment at the University of Michigan has dropped since the ban took effect. At California’s top public universities, African-Americans are a smaller share of incoming freshmen, while Latino enrollment is up slightly, but far below the state’s growth in the percentage of Latino high school graduates.

The case was the court’s second involving affirmative action in as many years. In June, the justices ordered lower courts to take another look at the University of Texas admissions plan in a ruling that could make it harder for public colleges to justify any use of race in admissions.

The case is Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, 12-682.

 

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Appeals Court Orders Release of ‘Targeted Killing’ Memo http://www.mintpressnews.com/appeals-court-orders-release-targeted-killing-memo/189394/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=appeals-court-orders-release-targeted-killing-memo http://www.mintpressnews.com/appeals-court-orders-release-targeted-killing-memo/189394/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 15:08:26 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189394 Panel sides with ACLU and New York Times in demanding legal rationale for al-Awlaki killing Continue reading

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A federal appeals court on Monday morning is demanding that the Obama administration disclose their legal justification for the targeted drone killing program.

Reversing a lower court ruling in The New York Times Company v. United States, a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered the release of portions of a classified Justice Department memo that provided the legal justification for the targeted drone killing of United States citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

Awlaki

Siding with the New York Times and ACLU, an appeals court is ordering the release of the legal memo justifying the drone killing of U.S. Citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, pictured here in Yemen in 2008. (Photo: Muhammad ud-Deen/ Wikimedia Commons)

“This is a resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing program,” said Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director, who argued the case before the panel in October.

“The government can’t legitimately claim that everything about the targeted killing program is a classified secret while senior officials selectively disclose information meant to paint the program in the most favorable light,” Jaffer continued. “The public has a right to know why the administration believes it can carry out targeted killings of American citizens who are located far away from any conventional battlefield.”

The issues in this ruling “assume added importance because the information sought concerns targeted killings of United States citizens carried out by drone aircraft,” wrote Circuit Judge Jon O. Newman in the ruling.

The panel argued that the government had waived its right to keep their legal memo secret following public statements by officials and the Justice Department’s release of a “white paper” to Congress explaining their legal rationale.

“Whatever protection the legal analysis might once have had,” Newman continued, “has been lost by virtue of public statements of public officials at the highest levels and official disclosure of the D.O.J. White Paper.”

The ruling stemmed from lawsuits filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Times and two of its reporters, Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, along with the ACLU. A ruling in January 2013 dismissed the FOIA request on the premise of national security.

“The public has a right to know the circumstances in which the U.S. government believes it can kill people, including American citizens, who are far from any battlefield and have never been charged with a crime,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, in a previous statement about the FOIA suit.

Shamsi continued:

The targeted killing program raises serious questions about government power in a constitutional democracy. Our system of government requires transparency about what the executive branch is doing, especially in matters of life and death, not the selective and inadequate disclosures that we have seen so far. Obama administration officials repeatedly insist that the targeted killing program is lawful, effective, and closely supervised, while simultaneously telling courts that the records on which their claims are based must be kept secret from the public. The government cannot and should not have it both ways.

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