Huge study refutes the federal government’s crap marijuana laws

❝ In the federal drug classification scheme, marijuana is classed at the very top. It is considered to be a Schedule I substance — a category reserved for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

For years, however, scientists have done study after study showing that this classification is misguided. On Thursday, the National Academy of Sciences put one more nail in the coffin with one of the most thorough reviews of the research to date: a massive, 396-page report on 10,000 research studies on marijuana, assessing therapeutic benefits and risk factors.

❝ The review, conducted by a panel of experts led by Harvard public health researcher Marie McCormack, is broken out into 100 different conclusions — many of which are just assessments of the current state of the research…

It is particularly significant, however, that the review states quite clearly that there is “conclusive or substantial evidence” that marijuana is effective for the treatment of chronic pain, as a tonic for nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and in treating spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients…

❝ Marijuana has also been floated as a potential treatment for a whole host of other disorders — such as easing insomnia relating to painful syndromes, increasing appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, decreasing severe anxiety, and combating the effects of PTSD. Although there’s moderate to limited evidence supporting marijuana’s effectiveness, the report found, the research here isn’t yet conclusive.

The review also looked at the health risks associated with marijuana use, dispelling some popular arguments against it. For example, according to the review of the research, smoking marijuana is not associated with the same cancer risks as tobacco — there was no evidence that marijuana use was associated with lung, head, and neck cancers. Tobacco, unlike marijuana, is recreationally legal nationwide.

❝ That doesn’t mean, however, that marijuana is completely absolved of health risks…“It just reinforces what our policy makers should already know,” said Taylor West. “This is a product with significantly lower risk factors than other things that we regulate and consume, like alcohol.”

Congress has the power to change these absurd and outdated laws. The White House could help progress along. Obama didn’t do much about that. I expect even less from Trump.

The big “but” lies with the grassroots organizing every Democrat from here to the Halls of Congress is talking about. If push is going to come to shove, if science is to return to stable, reasoned responsibility in the development of political platforms, then Democrats and Independents seeking my vote – and many, many others – had better get up-to-date on results from legal, recreational sales of marijuana, taxed for the general benefit of the voting public.

This ain’t the biggest deal in real reform needed in this ethically-backwards nation; but, it counts as one with liberty, justice and fiscal responsibility as recommendations.

Amazon didn’t kill Macy’s — Macy’s did

❝ It has been a very bad week for some of the country’s biggest department stores, with Macy’s feeling the brunt of it. The mass-market retailer’s stock has dropped 16 percent since it announced disappointing holiday sales results and details on thousands of job cuts on Jan. 4.

Macy’s has said that it has too many stores, in too many underperforming locations. It’s closing 100, and no one should be surprised if that number grows in future years.

❝ Macy’s has also blamed what it calls “changing customer behavior.” That’s code for the rise of Amazon.com and the adoption of e-commerce shopping in general. It’s also the idea that a new generation is spending more money on experiences over physical goods.

But while Amazon has certainly had a hand in Macy’s struggles — and we’ll get back to this in a bit — Macy’s should look within, first, for the cause of its current predicament. Because if not Amazon, someone else would have come along and taken advantage of the complacency that’s been on display inside Macy’s over the last decade.

❝ For starters, a trip into Macy’s this holiday season felt like a visit to a teenager’s bedroom: In its Paramus, N.J., store, items were strewn everywhere and no useful answers were to be had.

Even in a neat Macy’s, the selection of merchandise has left a lot to be desired — namely because there doesn’t appear to be much stuff that you can’t find elsewhere.

Prior to the rise of e-commerce, Macy’s could get away with some of this. But you can now buy the same stuff in lots of places — whether from Amazon or a brand’s own website. Comparing prices has gotten infinitely easier, too.

❝ The bottom line, however, is that Macy’s stores, by and large, have looked and felt the same forever. And in digital, Macy’s has long been on the defensive.

Now, take this object lesson and show it to someone in the “leadership” of the Democratic Party.

With the exception of Obama’s presidential campaigns pretty much everything that party has offered around the country for decades felt like 1984. With the addition of candidates whose main qualification was “they’ve been waiting long enough for a chance”. Not just presidential candidates; but, everything down the ballot to governors and state representatives.

Losing a few here and there was akin to simply missing your turn. We’ll try, again, later on. Little or no thought of changing times inside Macy’s or Democrat politics. Macy can blame Amazon and the Republicans will claim superior strategy. Both are about intellectual laziness and ennui.

New Jersey town sues DuPont for toxic waste dumping bigger than Exxon Valdez oil spill


Click to enlargeWilliam Bretzger/The News Journal

❝ A small town in New Jersey has sued DuPont for $1.1 billion, claiming it dumped more than 100 million lbs. of toxic waste into soil and water near the Delaware River, “a disaster worse than Exxon Valdez” that will take 1,000 years to clean up.

❝ Carneys Point Township is a town of about 8,000 near the eastern end of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Its December lawsuit in Salem County Superior Court involves the cleanup of the Chambers Work Site, where Teflon was invented in 1938.

The site has been linked to cancer clusters in the area, which includes Carneys Point.

❝ DuPont began operating at the site in 1892 as a gunpowder mill, then transformed it onto a 1,400-acre chemical manufacturing complex that used hazardous substances including mercury, benzene and ethyl chloride.

Thousands of New Jersey residents have sued DuPont for contaminating their drinking water at the site. One such case was settled in 1993 for almost $40 million. DuPont did not admit liability…

❝ The town asks the court to calculate the penalties due under the Industrial Site Recovery Act — tens of thousands of dollars per day multiplied by years, and compel DuPont to establish a remediation trust as required by law.

It says the remediation trust should be $1.126 billion…

DuPont spokesman Dan Turner declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Not especially interested in what DuPont PR flacks have to say in the company’s defense. Responsibility is the operative process. DuPont must be made to pay up for the damages caused to generations of residents by their careless, thoughtless, profit-mills.

The jobs killer isn’t China — it’s automation and it ain’t going away!

❝ The first job that Sherry Johnson, 56, lost to automation was at the local newspaper in Marietta, Ga., where she fed paper into the printing machines and laid out pages. Later, she watched machines learn to do her jobs on a factory floor making breathing machines, and in inventory and filing.

“It actually kind of ticked me off because it’s like, How are we supposed to make a living?” she said. She took a computer class at Goodwill, but it was too little too late. “The 20- and 30-year-olds are more up to date on that stuff than we are because we didn’t have that when we were growing up,” said Ms. Johnson, who is now on disability and lives in a housing project in Jefferson City, Tenn.

❝ Donald J. Trump told workers like Ms. Johnson that he would bring back their jobs by clamping down on trade, offshoring and immigration. But economists say the bigger threat to their jobs has been something else: automation.

“Over the long haul, clearly automation’s been much more important — it’s not even close,” said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard who studies labor and technological change.

❝ No candidate talked much about automation on the campaign trail. Technology is not as convenient a villain as China or Mexico, there is no clear way to stop it, and many of the technology companies are in the United States and benefit the country in many ways…

❝ When Greg Hayes, the chief executive of United Technologies, agreed to invest $16 million in one of its Carrier factories as part of a Trump deal to keep some jobs in Indiana instead of moving them to Mexico, he said the money would go toward automation.

“What that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs,” he said…

❝ The changes are not just affecting manual labor: Computers are rapidly learning to do some white-collar and service-sector work, too. Existing technology could automate 45 percent of activities people are paid to do, according to a July report by McKinsey. Work that requires creativity, management of people or caregiving is least at risk.

❝ Ms. Johnson in Tennessee said both her favorite and highest-paying job, at $8.65 an hour, was at an animal shelter, caring for puppies.

It was also the least likely to be done by a machine, she said: “I would hope a computer couldn’t do that, unless they like changing dirty papers and giving them love and attention.”

Given time. I don’t doubt an appropriate robot will be designed to at least give the appearance of giving love and attention. The question still comes back to a society, a government, elected officials who care enough about people before profits to rearrange political economy to allow us all a share in the new automated prosperity.

Geek Squad techs get a $500 spiff from the FBI for snooping through customer’s computers

❝ FBI agents and prosecutors usually strut inside Santa Ana’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, knowing they’ve focused the wrath of the criminal-justice system on a particular criminal. But an unusual child-pornography-possession case has placed officials on the defensive for nearly 26 months. Questions linger about law-enforcement honesty, unconstitutional searches, underhanded use of informants and twisted logic…

Rettenmaier is a prominent Orange County physician and surgeon who had no idea that a Nov. 1, 2011, trip to a Mission Viejo Best Buy would jeopardize his freedom and eventually raise concerns about, at a minimum, FBI competency or, at worst, corruption. Unable to boot his HP Pavilion desktop computer, he sought the assistance of the store’s Geek Squad. At the time, nobody knew the company’s repair technicians routinely searched customers’ devices for files that could earn them $500 windfalls as FBI informants…

❝ According to court records, Geek Squad technician John “Trey” Westphal, an FBI informant, reported he accidentally located on Rettenmaier’s computer an image of “a fully nude, white prepubescent female on her hands and knees on a bed, with a brown choker-type collar around her neck.” Westphal notified his boss, Justin Meade, also an FBI informant, who alerted colleague Randall Ratliff, another FBI informant at Best Buy, as well as the FBI. Claiming the image met the definition of child pornography and was tied to a series of illicit pictures known as the “Jenny” shots, agent Tracey Riley seized the hard drive.

❝ Setting aside the issue of whether the search of Rettenmaier’s computer constituted an illegal search by private individuals acting as government agents, the FBI undertook a series of dishonest measures in hopes of building a case…James D. Riddet, Rettenmaier’s attorney…says agents conducted two additional searches of the computer without obtaining necessary warrants, lied to trick a federal magistrate judge into authorizing a search warrant, then tried to cover up their misdeeds by initially hiding records.

❝ To convict someone of child-pornography charges, the government must prove the suspect knowingly possessed the image. But in Rettenmaier’s case, the alleged “Jenny” image was found on unallocated “trash” space, meaning it could only be retrieved by “carving” with costly, highly sophisticated forensics tools. In other words, it’s arguable a computer’s owner wouldn’t know of its existence…Worse for the FBI, a federal appellate court unequivocally declared in February 2011…that pictures found on unallocated space did not constitute knowing possession because it is impossible to determine when, why or who downloaded them…

❝ The case is presently so tenuous that Riddet, who has 47 years of court experience, suggests that federal officials sloppily pushed for an unnecessary arrest…But the biggest issue remains whether Geek Squad technicians acted as secret law-enforcement agents and, thus, violated Fourth Amendment prohibitions against warrantless government searches. Riddet claims records show “FBI and Best Buy made sure that during the period from 2007 to the present, there was always at least one supervisor who was an active informant.” He also said, “The FBI appears to be able to access data at [Best Buy’s main repair facility in Brooks, Kentucky] whenever they want.” Calling the relationship between the agency and the Geek Squad relevant to pretrial motions, Judge Cormac Carney approved Riddet’s request to question agents under oath.

The FBI can be trusted to obey the law, constitutional rights and respect the privacy of American citizens – about as much as the average armed burglar. Since I’ve been down this road before — and won — I’d suggest that any concerned citizens who’ve been taking their computers in to Best Buy for Geek Squad service Google around to stay in touch with possible class action suits resulting from information revealed in this case.

It stinks on ice.

First London-bound freight train departs China

The first freight train from China to London set off on Sunday on a journey that will cover a staggering 7,456 miles.

It departed from Yiwu West railway station in Zhejiang Province, China, and will arrive in Barking, London, having been trundling along for 18 days.

Its route will snake through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium, France and finally Britain.

The service is being run by the China Railway Corporation. Britain is the eighth country to be added to its list of destinations, with London its 15th city.

The new route is set to boost trade ties between the UK and China with goods such as clothing and bags delivered along the re-established Silk Road, connecting Europe and Asia, according to The Indian Express, which cited a report from Xinhua news agency.

The focus on strengthening trade by expanding China’s railway infrastructure and network is part of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy, announced in late 2013.

I don’t think anyone asked Donald Trump for planning permission. Or ever will.

Are Trump’s tariff threats constitutional? Of course not.

❝ Among the first steps being floated by the incoming Trump administration is a 5 to 10 percent tariff on imports, implemented through an executive order. It’s the sort of shoot-first, ask-questions-later action that President-elect Donald J. Trump promised during the campaign. It’s also unconstitutional.

That’s because the path to imposing tariffs — along with taxes and other revenue-generating measures — clearly begins with Congress, and in particular the House, through the Origination Clause. When presidents have raised (or lowered) tariffs in the past, they have tended to do so using explicit, if sometimes wide-ranging, authority from Congress.

❝ The founders thought about this issue a lot: After all, taxes, as every grade schooler knows, fueled the colonies’ push for independence. So they wrote the Constitution, and its Origination Clause, to give the taxing power to the part of government that is closest to the people, thereby protecting against arbitrary and onerous taxation…

❝ True, tariffs are no longer used to raise money, but to protect domestic industries, and to punish foreign ones. But they unquestionably still produce revenue. And while tariffs on imports are aimed at foreigners, they affect domestic industries that use or compete with imports; they can also have an enormous impact on the overall economy by raising consumer prices. Allowing the executive to circumvent the House to enact otherwise unfavorable tax policies that affect Americans is what the clause is designed to avoid — that those furthest removed from the people have the ability to tax them…

❝ Of course, Mr. Trump doesn’t have to act unilaterally; he has Republican majorities in both chambers that are eager to work with him. One option would be to push for a border adjustment tax, a proposal already being floated in the House as part of comprehensive tax reform, which would forbid tax deductions for imports and exempt exports from taxes.

A border adjustment tax is a far better option than tariffs. It would eliminate incentives in the current tax system to manufacture abroad, and to shift income abroad. Unlike a tariff, it aims to be trade neutral, with any changes in consumer pricing of imports and exports being offset by a rise in the dollar. And with strong support in the House, it could be enacted in full compliance with the Origination Clause, lending it legitimacy that a unilateral tariff would lack.

It won’t be difficult to find a few Representatives or Senators to oppose a move hampering any significant portion of the US economy. Waving the Free Trade flag won’t be needed. Just a phone call from any of the sectors of American business with profit centers both inside and outside our national boundaries. A phone call to a segment of the all-encompassing clot of politicians housed in Congress. The global economy was a done deal decades ago.

And that doesn’t begin to include those corporations directly filing lawsuits. Like, um, any major retailer.

Republican War on the Environment marches on — Michigan just banned banning plastic bags


The queen of a Republican fundraising festival

❝ A new law in Michigan will prohibit local governments from banning, regulating or imposing fees on the use of plastic bags and other containers. You read that correctly: It’s not a ban on plastic bags — it’s a ban on banning plastic bags…

The new public act prohibits local ordinances from “regulating the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers,” including plastic bags, as well as cups, bottles and other forms of packaging. This means individual cities and municipalities are not allowed to ban plastic bags or charge customers a fee for using them.

❝ Bans and restrictions on the use of plastic bags are widespread in other parts of the country and around the world. The rationale is simple: Plastic bags are infamous non-biodegradable sources of pollution — although they will eventually break down into tiny pieces, scientists believe this process can take hundreds of years, or even up to a millennium, in landfills…

❝ Bangladesh was the first country in the world to ban certain types of thin plastic bags in 2002, after they were found to have choked the nation’s drainage systems during a series of devastating floods. China instituted a similar ban in 2008, and also prohibits businesses from giving out thicker plastic bags to customers for free. Other nations, including South Africa and Italy, have also enacted similar restrictions.

San Francisco became the first U.S. municipality to institute a plastic bag ban. And in 2014, California became the first state. Many other municipalities around the country have bans or fees in place, including Austin, Seattle and Chicago…

❝ On the other hand, Michigan is not the only state to have implemented a ban on bans. Idaho, Arizona and Missouri all have enacted similar laws. In these cases, proponents of the laws have defended them as a way of protecting businesses from having to comply with additional regulations.

Today’s Republican mind considers any facet of economic life beyond profit margins to be trivial. Perhaps, suspect and subversive.

French now have the right to ignore company emails on their own time

❝ France employees are getting the legal right to avoid work emails outside working hours…The new law, which has been dubbed the “right to disconnect”, comes into force on 1 January.

Companies with more than 50 workers will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails…

❝ The measure is part of a set of labour laws introduced in May…It was the only one of the laws – which also made it easier for firms to hire and fire employees – that did not generate widespread protest and strikes.

I’ll second that emotion. For most occupations, companies requiring email attention on your own time are folks I wouldn’t recommend working for.

Yes, there are exceptions. That’s not what this is about.