Archive for August, 2015

Rand Paul just promised to shut down this major NSA facility

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Senator Rand Paul has made a name for himself as one of the few Republicans willing to rail against the surveillance state.

He’s worked closely with a similar-minded colleague on the other side of the aisle, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), to end the bulk collection of metadata and reform other NSA practices. Paul has made reining in the NSA a key part of his presidential campaign, building off of a recent 13-hour filibuster during which he tried to block renewal of the Patriot Act.

Paul also used this topic to hit pro-NSA candidates like Governor Chris Christie for wanting to expand spying without a warrant during the first Republican debate.

This week, Paul continued his crusade against warrantless spying during a trip to Utah, home of a massive NSA data storage facility.

I’m on my way to the airport, but we decided to stop by the NSA facility in Utah. When I become President, we’ll convert it into a Constitutional Center to study the Fourth Amendment! Bulk data collection must end! What would you turn it into?,” wrote Paul on Facebook.

Paul has recently embraced a strategy of visiting states, especially ones with caucuses, where his father Ron Paul performed well in his previous presidential campaigns. According to a campaign newsletter sent by Paul’s chief strategist Doug Stafford, Paul wants to visit parts of the country many presidential candidates simply write off.

“This week Senator Paul made campaign stops throughout the northwestern United States, from Alaska to Utah,” wrote Stafford. “As the Washington Post noted, this is all part of a long-term strategy to pick up support from delegates who other candidates are disregarding. Senator Paul is running to disrupt the status quo, and this is the latest example of that.”

This effort comes on the heels of Paul fading in early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire. Given the depth of the Republican field, there’s a good chance the nominee won’t be decided too early, so Paul’s strategy of focusing on caucus states, where motivated grassroots activists have more influence over the process than in a primary, makes sense.

Expect Paul to continue hitting surveillance state themes. It’s an issue that shores up his base and one that makes him a “different type of Republican,” a theme he hit hard in the first presidential debate.

Being unique could help Paul recover in a crowded field where other contenders have been drowned out by a fascination with Donald Trump. Whether Trump will fade moving forward, opening up space for other candidates, remains an open question.

Sheldon Adelson says he wants to ban online gambling to protect the underage–but do they play in his casinos?

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Sheldon Adelson, the man behind the iconic Las Vegas Venetian and Palazzo hotels, is the eighth richest man in America–worth $25 billion–and has no doubt profited handsomely from the gaming industry.

He’s also one of the country’s most outspoken opponents of online gambling.

Adelson has backed an anti-online gaming bill entitled the Restore America’s Wire Act. As the Huffington Post’s Christina Wilkie reported:

“RAWA, would impose a federal ban on all Internet gambling, including online state lotteries and poker. Since it was introduced last year, RAWA has been championed almost singlehandedly outside Congress by casino magnate and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, whose army of lobbyists have made clear that the bill is a top priority. Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., spent about $150 million in 2012 to fund Republican candidates and conservative groups.”

On the surface, Adelson’s support of RAWA looks suspiciously like a business decision driven by cronyism. Adelson however, explains his position in the context of a protective measure to Bloomberg:

“I want to make money from those who can afford it. I can’t tell from the Internet who is underage. I can’t tell who has financial difficulties. I can’t tell who is not gaming responsibly. I can’t tell if money is being laundered. I can in the casino.”

This explanation caught the eye of Vegas-based online gambling advocate Tim James, who decided to investigate whether protecting underage and vulnerable people was truly at the root of Adelson’s anti-online gambling crusade.

In an undercover investigation for the online “Tim James Show,” host Tim James sent two underage individuals into The Venetian and The Palazzo to test whether they were truly free from the scourges Adelson claims he protects his customers from.

In this video, a 19-year-old woman with a fake ID is shown being able to both gamble and order drinks. A 19-year-old man is shown gambling and is served alcoholic beverages as well, without anyone asking him for identification at all. In the same investigation, James also finds that prostitution, which Adelson has spoken out against, appears to be common within his casinos.

James interviews an alleged sex worker he brought back to a hotel room at The Venetian who tells him she’s worked there, “ungodly amounts.” James asks her if casino staff look the other way while she’s doing her job and she says “the bartenders do, security does, the dealers do.” She also notes that she believes staff at The Venetian actively want her there seeing as it’s a place where many wealthy men come to gamble.

This video also shows that online gambling (which is legal in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey) appears to be more regulated than Adelson claims. Using the same fake ID that allowed a nineteen-year-old woman to gamble in Adelson’s casino, James tries to register on online poker website WSOP.com. He appears to be denied several times, both with the fake and a real underage ID.

Adleson spoke of “sin activity” to Bloomberg, yet is the owner of casinos where it appears underage individuals are drinking and gambling, and prostitution is occurring with the knowledge of staff.

Adleson’s critics say his online gambling ban push is a corporatist ploy to use the government to keep competition from encroaching on his business. Interestingly, two Republican presidential candidates have been sponsors of RAWA: Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.

They are also Republicans Adelson has donated considerably to.

When Adelson was asked how much he’d spend to keep people from gambling online, he told Bloomberg, “whatever it takes.”

This city is winning the War on Drugs by laying down its weapons

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Originally published at Every Joe

Gloucester, Massachusetts is quintessentially New England. A seacoast town that survives on its working class ethic and seasonal tourism, it has come face-to-face with an epidemic that many cities just like it increasingly contend with: death by heroin overdose. Unfortunately, Gloucester isn’t alone in dealing with a tragic increase in fatalities caused by dangerous opioids.

Data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that there were 16,235 deaths as a result of prescription opioids, and an additional 8,257 due to heroin during 2013, the last time period for which this information is available. In the same year, there were a total of 43,982 drug overdose related deaths. In Massachusetts alone, at least 1,000 people died of as a result of opioid abuse in 2014.

What sets Gloucester apart from other cities working to combat the same trend however, is its police department’s unprecedented approach to the intersection of law enforcement and drug addiction. Fed up with learning of yet another heroin overdose in his hometown this past winter, Gloucester’s police chief Leonard Campanello decided to take a new approach.

The latest bout of bad news inspired him to log in to the official Gloucester Police Department’s Facebook page and lay out a policy that has since created a ripple effect across the country. In early March, he posted the following:

“Since January of this year, we have responded to dozens of opiate related overdoses and, unfortunately, the City has seen 4 deaths in this time that are heroin related. While we have been successful in our use of nasal Narcan and have saved lives, 4 deaths is 4 too many. The dangers of heroin and opiate use are notorious. We do a lot to collaborate in awareness, prevention, and treatment and will continue to look for new ways to rid our streets of this poison.

As a police department, let me again make our policy clear:

If you are not involved in opiates or heroin, help us. Inform yourself, call us when you see activity, volunteer. You can make a difference.

If you are a user of opiates or heroin, let us help you. We know you do not want this addiction. We have resources here in the City that can and will make a difference in your life. Do not become a statistic.

If you are a dealer of heroin, opiates or any other poison…We are coming for you. We will find you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent possible. You will pay the price for making money off the misery of others. It’s not a matter of “if” we find you, it’s a matter of “when.” You’ve gotten your warning. Get out of our City.

Chief Campanello.”

This marked the first time a local law enforcement agency declared what amounts to a truce with hard drug users. While Campanello is far from holding a position in favor of full legalization, his desire to limit demand as a means to choke the supply marks a positive step in the right direction for anyone who recognizes the failure of the War on Drugs. As Campanello, who worked as a narcotics officer for 7 years, explained in an interview cited by the Washington Post, “There is no way we can arrest our way out of this. We’ve been trying that for 50 years. We’ve been fighting it for 50 years, and the only thing that has happened is heroin has become cheaper and more people are dying.”

While a black market will continue to exist insofar as drug dealers are prosecuted, treating people as addicts rather than criminals and offering help as opposed to jail time has incentivized coming out of the shadows. For many people, a life of addiction was further fueled by fear of the law. Where does one turn to when they could be arrested for struggling with what amounts to a disease? (An especially pertinent question for people with limited financial resources).

This is a space that the Gloucester police department has boldly stepped into. Throughout the spring of this year, Campanello spent time assisting the first round of addicts who had come to him for help, and preparing for what amounts to the decriminalization of drug use in his city. By May, the police force was ready. Back on Facebook, Campanello laid out the specifics.

“Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged. Instead we will walk them through the system toward detox and recovery,” wrote Campanello. He then detailed partnerships the police force had set up with local clinics to ensure that any addict who came to the cops would be seen and assisted immediately.

Campanello then when on to explain that Nasal Narcan, a drug that helps to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose, had been made available at pharmacies throughout the city without a prescription. He also noted that the police department would help to cover the costs for anyone in need of the treatment if they lacked insurance coverage.

Campanello also made note of his plans to take the model he’s implemented in Gloucester to the national level. “I will meet with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Congressman Seth Moulton. I will bring what Gloucester is accomplishing and challenge them to change, at the federal level, how we receive aid, support and assistance,” he wrote.

“I will bring the idea of how far Gloucester is willing to go to fight this disease and will ask them to hold federal agencies, insurance companies, and big business accountable for building a support system that can eradicate opiate addiction and provide long term, sustainable support to reduce recidivism,” concluded Campanello.

After offering aid as opposed to cuffs, many people who were otherwise trapped by their addictions were free to seek help for the first time in their lives. As of mid-August, over one-hundred addicts have sought assistance from Gloucester’s police department and the non-profit they set up to run this innovative program. As the Washington Post reported, one in six people came to the city from out of state. And over eighty-percent of the individuals seeking assistance were under the age of thirty.

The Gloucester model has since gained notoriety, with pilot programs launching in three additional Massachusetts cities, and two in Illinois. While it’s inevitable that some addicts won’t identify the extent of their problem and seek help, treating this epidemic with medical care rather than arrest warrants is a step in the right direction. Campanello said this month that since his program has been in place, heroin deaths have slowed slightly in Gloucester.

It’s still too early to tell exactly what the impact of this program will be, and to what extent it will spread. It’s nonetheless inspiring to see a man like Campanello, who has been on the ground fighting the War on Drugs for decades, recognize that laying down his weapon is the key to victory, counterintuitive as that may sound on the surface. Legality is not the root of this issue; addiction is.

As Campanello so eloquently stated, “I have arrested or charged many addicts and dealers. I’ve never arrested a tobacco addict, nor have I ever seen one turned down for help when they develop lung cancer, whether or not they have insurance. The reasons for the difference in care between a tobacco addict and an opiate addict is stigma and money. Petty reasons to lose a life.”

In key election states, Republican voters support allowing states to legalize marijuana

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

It used to be conventional wisdom among Republicans–particularly those running for president–that being for the war on drugs is a must. With some states now legalizing medicinal or even recreational marijuana, overall public opinion has shifted.

But recent polling shows just how much Republicans have evolved on this issue. Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post reports:

“By significant margins, Republican voters in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire say that states should be able to carry out their own marijuana laws without federal interference. Sixty-four percent of GOP voters in Iowa say that states should be able to carry out their own laws vs. only 21 percent who say that the federal government should arrest and prosecute people who are following state marijuana laws. In New Hampshire, that margin is even slightly higher with 67 percent of GOP voters saying the feds should stay out.”

This polling however, doesn’t necessarily mean that Republican primary voters support recreational marijuana use – at least not yet.

According to a Pew Research poll conducted in March, 53 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. However, only 39 percent of Republicans do.

And there’s a generation gap, even among conservatives: Sixty-three percent of Republican Millennials support legalization, which certainly hints at the possible future trajectory of the party.

As Zoe Russell, Assistant Executive Director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) told Rare, “The future of the marijuana issue in the GOP is the same as the future of the issue across the general public. Today, most people see prohibition brings about more negative consequences than any good.”

On the generational differences, Russell said, “The new generation of Republicans sees that the policy of marijuana prohibition was built on half-truths to begin with.”

What’s particularly fascinating about this new polling data, which was commissioned by reform group Marijuana Majority, is that it reveals a nuance in conservative thinking.

Analyzing the Pew data, it’s clear that most Republicans still don’t support full legalization of marijuana. But a strong majority of GOP primary voters in key presidential states support a states’ rights model, which is consistent with a constitutionally conservative position, but at odds with the more traditionally socially conservative approach that has dominated the GOP in the past.

This puts presidential candidates like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, both of whom have said they would prosecute people for following state marijuana policies that contravene federal law, outside of the Republican mainstream.

But as The Washington Post noted, there are plenty of GOP candidates who are more accepting of the burgeoning states’ rights approach. “Many Republican presidential candidates have said that while they don’t condone marijuana use or legalization personally, they nonetheless support the right of states to chart their own policy on marijuana law. This is the current position of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, former tech executive Carly Fiorina, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), former Texas governor Rick Perry and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.),” wrote the Post’s Ingraham.

Increasingly, more states are moving toward legalizing marijuana in various ways. Presently, twenty-three states plus Washington DC allow the use of legal marijuana in at least some capacity.

Whether Republicans such as Christie and Rubio will take the hint and respect the rights of voters to legalize marijuana is an open question. But it’s certainly fascinating that public opinion on marijuana has shifted so drastically as to put their positions in the minority, even within their own party.

Jeb Bush spoke Spanish at the border and this was Donald Trump’s insane reaction

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Originally published at Rare

Real estate mogul Donald Trump has more than just a background in politician-buying and crony business dealings. His signature crassness and apparent acting skills have made him a star not just in reality television, but even pro-wrestling.

Trump has since taken his show on the road in a political context, adding a special splash of personality to the presidential race with his unfettered use of social media.

After the first Republican debate, Trump endorsed using the word “bimbo” to describe Fox News host Megyn Kelly. He responded in this fashion because she dared to ask him a tough question about, of all things, his penchant for insulting women.

Ever one to interact with his fans and hurl insults, Trump has managed to outdo himself yet again. In response to Jeb Bush’s recent trip to the border, during which he spoke Spanish (his wife’s native language) Trump retweeted the following.

Earth to Trump: “Mexican” isn’t a language. The fact that this needs to be said is concerning.

For a man who claims he’s going to magically make the Mexican government pay for a border wall, Trump is apparently, dangerously unfamiliar with the country’s culture. Not only does he manage to bring out the worst in his fans, Trump consistently doubles down and promotes abject ignorance.

Increasingly, it feels as though Trump’s presidential candidacy is an extended Saturday Night Live skit. Or perhaps an episode of South Park.