D.C. approves medical marijuana

The New York Times recently reported that the District of Columbia Council voted last week to “allow doctors to recommend marijuana for people who are infected with H.I.V., as well as people with glaucoma, cancer or a ‘chronic and lasting disease.'”

So…how does this bode for the country? It’s highly unlikely the measure would be shot down à la gay marriage — there’s not enough fervor behind denying pain relief to those who are dying a slow, painful death. But could we possibly be heading in the direction of widespread regulation of the drug, the use of which is arguably much less damaging than cigarettes (hell, it’s a prescription for the very disease caused by the cancer sticks)? Could it be?

One of the event’s sponsors, David Catania, seems to think so. He called the D.C. plan “a thoughtful approach toward implementing a medical marijuana program that will be a model for other states that will be defensible before Congress.”

To the states: Provided this passes, the capital will join the ranks of 14 states with legal marijuana dispensaries. It’s up to the rest of you to take D.C.’s lead and follow suit.

(Read up on the issue’s journey to approval in an earlier post, entitled Aaaaat laaaaaaaaast.)

China Says Independence Activists Will Be Shot Dead On Sight

China Says Independence Activists Will Be Shot Dead On Sight

I don’t usually comment on international news, but the current situation in the Tibetan region of Kyigudo — recently hit by a powerful earthquake — merits attention. Check out the above article (edited by yours truly) to learn more about how the Chinese are managing rescue and relief efforts (hint: very poorly).

Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Oklahoma?

From the xenophobia repeatedly expressed by tea partiers, to the clear commonalities between tea party values and long-held Republican Party ideals, to the conflicts inherent its own principles, it seems the tea party movement has thus far struggled to maintain a sense of coherence and legitimacy.

But the Oklahoma faction of the newly declared “federation” have outdone themselves.

According to a recent article from the Associated Press, Oklahoma tea party leaders intend to establish a volunteer militia to “help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty,” report AP writers Sean Murphy and Tim Talley.

“It’s not a far-right crazy plan or anything like that,” said tea party leader J.W. Berry of Tulsa-based organization OKforTea.

Berry, or anyone for that matter, would be hard-pressed to convince me of that. Even if, as he added, “This would be done with the full cooperation of the state Legislature.”

state-funded, politically driven militia — the likes of which this country hasn’t encountered since the Civil War — frightens me more than some rogue group of loonies getting together with their guns. Then, at least, they would have no actual power.

Let’s talk, Oklahomans: Perhaps we should stop to consider historical outcomes of such initiatives — to start with, the Oklahoma City bombing, the 15th anniversary of which was this past Monday? Also, since when does government approval signify ethical legitimacy? Remember all those times the government didn’t come through on that front? For example, when it allowed slavery to exist in our country for nearly a century?  A recent article by Huffington Post blogger Stephen Herrington details a few more excellent reasons why this is a very, very bad idea.

The existence of a government-supported tea party militia is where cooperation, reconciliation and progress ends, and civil war — on a sociopolitical, if not yet literal, scale — begins.

Fortunately, the tea party’s lack of focus may yet be the bane of this nascent scheme. Murphy and Talley write, “Even the proponents say they don’t know how an armed force would be organized nor how a state-based militia could block federal mandates.”

Phew — for now.

House Approves Landmark Bill to Extend Health Care to Millions – NYTimes.com

House Approves Landmark Bill to Extend Health Care to Millions – NYTimes.com.

A stunned “wow” is all I can muster at the moment. Reflection to follow.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear thoughts from everyone out there — comment away!

Aaaaat laaaaaaaaassst

A few years ago, most Americans probably would have laughed at the thought of any movement towards marijuana legalization or regulation — “cannabis reform,” by its more diplomatic name — in the capital. I certainly would have. And yet, despite all odds, the day has come.

Well, sort of.

The District of Columbia recently opened the door to medical marijuana legalization — in the city.

In an article recently published on Time.com, Sam Jewler — a friend of mine and editor of the Oberlin Review, who has also contributed to New York Magazine — details the capital’s new medical marijuana bill, called Initiative 59. Introduced by city council member David Catania, it proposes to “create five to 10 nonprofit dispensaries around the city, which would have to be at least 1,000 feet away from places like schools, parks and other dispensaries.”

Sorry kids (and aging hippies), you’ll just have to go to your local candy man for a while longer, like every other healthy, able-bodied American.

A year later, hope lives on

As a Barack Obama supporter and lifelong Chicagoan, it pained me not to be in my hometown the night he won the election. I watched MSNBC online streaming coverage until 6 a.m. in Córdoba, Spain, where I was studying for my junior year of college. Elated at his victory, my American friends and I hugged, cried and popped open a bottle of champagne — but I felt left out of a crucial moment for my country and my city.

To make up for it, I went to his inauguration. The following is from an email I wrote to a Chicago friend after attending:

“I ended up going alone, but it didn’t really matter much; there was this great sense of brother-/sisterhood that day (and those following) in the capital. I think your experience in Chicago on election night probably gives you some idea of what I’m talking about. I was so excited just to be going that I wasn’t even phased by the 9 hours of bus travel the trip called for.

It’s hard to appreciate the historic nature of an event like that in the moment, even when you know how significant it is. That’s pretty much how I felt at the time: knowing it was something important, something that would be talked about as a turning point in our nation’s history and possibly the world’s (depending on certain decisions he has yet to make and their consequences, of course), but at the same time I was just watching it happen and taking it all in: the glimpse of the red-curtained door through which our next president would walk through; the women next to me crying; the guy who keeps taking pictures and getting in the way of my narrow line of sight; the little girl sitting on her mom’s shoulders who cheers excitedly along with everyone else; the endless sea of people around me rejoicing…

So pretty much as you might expect: one of those priceless, tell-your-grandchildren stories.”

You can catch a glimpse of that sea of people in this blog’s banner.

Today, I still have hope that Barack Obama will change our country for the better, and faith that, in time, most of the many promises he made will come to fruition. I’m not thrilled with every single thing he’s done so far, but I’m quite satisfied with a lot of what he has accomplished. In the past year, he rescued the country from falling into a second depression; improved historically bad relations with Cuba; promoted democracy around the world through diplomacy rather than military force; appointed the first Hispanic Supreme Court judge; created policies and programs that promote sustainable living and environmental conservation; and put health care reform in motion. Controversial though it was, the Nobel Peace Prize was a cheering sign of the international community’s renewed faith in the United States and the president.

At the risk of sounding like an idealistic optimist, I sincerely believe President Obama will attempt to fulfill the vast majority of promises he made during the campaign. I also know that a single man’s will (and a lot of charm) is not enough. But as the man himself said, “In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.”

To find out just how far we’ve come since the inauguration (and how far we have to go), PolitiFact has compiled a complete list of all the promises Obama made during the campaign, and keeps tallies on the status of all 503 of them.

Ed wouldn’t have done it that way

Once upon a time, Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow (and some of their respective contemporaries) believed the mission of the media was to inform the American public about issues of national importance, and to do so without a hint of their own bias.

In 2009, news that challenges the status quo is kept under wraps. The owners of vast corporate media conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch are buddies with the guys in politics who want certain issues left alone, and certain opinions suppressed. This applies to liberals as well as conservatives in the media. The vast majority of news outlets, not just those on TV, cover the same issues, and most coverage is uniform. News today is designed to be inoffensive and entertaining.

But from time to time, one comes across an instance of daring, important, exceptional journalism.

Vocalo is an inspiring example of this. It is a unique endeavor in the field of public radio broadcasting. They experiment with the very ways in which the news is created and transmitted to the people. In their own words, Vocalo is “dedicated to pushing the boundaries of democratizing media and creating a truly public media platform where informed citizens like YOU engage in conversations, create dialogue, share ideas, express opinions and create an alternative to Big media channels.”

This past Thursday, Vocalo aired a 20-minute interview with “Freeway” Ricky Ross, fresh out of prison after doing 20 years for leading a massive crack cocaine distribution network based in Los Angeles. I found myself shocked by several things: the fact that a former drug lord would be given a public forum to offer his side of the story; how much time they devoted to the piece; and the very controversial nature of many of the questions and answers.

Interviewer and Vocalo contributor Tom: “Are you saying that you found out definitively that the people who were supplying you with what must have been huge quantities of drugs were representatives of the government?”

Freeway Ricky Ross: “Let me say this here — they was government operatives, meaning that they’re on the government’s payroll. They were not actual government agents, because they can’t work for the United States, because they’re not legal immigrants. They were what’s called operatives, meaning they would get a check. The CIA did know they were selling drugs in this country. That’s proven without a doubt.”

If an interviewee on CNN (or any other cable news channel — not to speak of the network news) started saying something like that, they would “leave it there” in a hurry.

I find it extremely important for all Americans to be aware of the fact that a government agency illegally employed undocumented immigrants to organize a vast, nation-wide drug ring that funneled crack cocaine into a poor black neighborhood in L.A., and which funded rebels in Nicaragua.

Ross has been out of prison for 8 weeks now. That statement is incendiary; media across the country should be all over this. And yet, a Google search for news stories containing “Freeway Ricky Ross” produced 4 results, all but one referring to the rapper of the same name. One could argue that it’s old news; but the fact is, most Americans still have no idea this happened.

On top of that, there’s new news here, too. Ross talks about how he self-educated himself and turned his life around while incarcerated. Today he has a new mission: to deter young people from making the same mistakes he did 25 years ago.

When asked what he would say to young people getting into the drug business, he doesn’t preach or read from a script. “When you sell drugs, you basically put everything that you love in jeopardy — family, freedom, your life. So, you know, when you get into the drug business, it’s very dangerous. I just served 20 years and six months in prison…When you get into the drug business, you have to be prepared to lose all that. And sometimes you have to be prepared to even take a life.”

This could easily be one of the most fascinating and important interviews of the year. But due to widespread fear, complacency and laziness within the American media, most Americans won’t even know it happened — at least, until the movie comes out.

Once again, I must ask: can you blame ’em? Look at what happened to Gary Webb and Dan Rather. Their careers were forever tainted by their diligence in pursuing this extremely controversial issue. Who would want to follow in their footsteps?

But I think we — the American people — can absolutely blame the media for not fulfilling their role as the unofficial fourth branch of government.

No, folks — as Dan Rather once said, Ed wouldn’t have done it that way.