What happened to America?!

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Courtesy of Jack Cluth on the blog, What Would Jack Do?

On Thursday, federal authorities filed an indictment in federal court in San Francisco charging FedEx with assisting two related online pharmacies by knowingly delivering painkillers and dangerous drugs to customers without prescriptions for ten years ending in 2010. Paul Elias reports, FedEx Charged With Knowingly Delivering Dangerous Drugs To Customers Without Prescriptions, that the Department of Justice announced the charges in Washington, D.C. demanding FedEx forfeit $820 million earned by assisting the illicit pharmacies. The Memphis, Tennessee based delivery company stands accused of shipping Ambien- a powerful sleep aid,  anti-anxiety medications Valium and Xanax and other drugs to customers without legitimate medical need and a lack of valid prescription. In a written statement, company spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald said, “We will plead not guilty. We will defend against this attack on the integrity and good name of FedEx and its employees.” In addition, Fitzgerald said the DEA refused their request for a list of online pharmacies under investigation making it impossible for the company to know which companies are operating illegally. However, the Justice Department claims that federal officials told FedEx since 2004 that it was shipping dangerous drugs without prescriptions alleging that couriers in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia warned executives about suspicious drug deliveries. Last year, rival company UPS paid $40 million to resolve similar allegations and took steps to block illicit online drug dealers from using their service. Both companies said in regulatory filings that they had been served with grand jury subpoenas between 2007 and 2009, Elias reports. The investigation came in response to the increase in online pharmacies launched in 2005 in San Francisco leading to  dozens of arrests, thousands of websites shuttered and tens of millions of dollars and pills seized worldwide. The executive director of Express Association of America, a trade group created by FedEx, UPS and three other service said there is no industry wide effort to address the policing of prescription drug deliveries. A federal jury in 2012 convicted three men of operating illegal pharmacies using FedEx and UPS to deliver drugs without prescriptions and seven others were convicted in San Francisco previously.

In Los Angeles, the Associate Press article, Lawsuit filed in LA woman’s pummeling by patrolman, a woman pummeled by a California Highway Patrol officer caught on video filed a civil rights lawsuit on Thursday. A lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of Marlene Pinnock names the commissioner of the CHP, the unidentified officer in the July 1 video and other officers as defendants. The video recorded by a passing driver shows Pinnock being repeatedly punched while being straddled by the officer. The lawsuit claims excessive force, assault, battery and a violation of Pinnock’s due process rights. In addition, Pinnock “suffered great mental and physical pain, suffering, anguish, fright, nervousness, anxiety, grief shock, humiliation, indignity, and embarrassment” and seeks monetary damages. CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow told the Associated Press: “We do have a good history at taking a look at our processes, procedures and conduct of our employees,” Farrow said. “That’s never been questioned until today.” He has met with community and civil rights leaders in Los Angeles multiple times since the incident and pledge that an internal investigation will conclude in weeks rather than months. The CHP said Pinnock was walking on Interstate 10 west of downtown L.A. endangering herself and people in traffic and the officer was trying to restrain her. Pinnock had begun to walking off the freeway but returned when the confrontation happened. The officer involved has been on the job one and half years and will be on desk duty until completion of the internal investigation, meanwhile, Pinnock remains hospitalized with head injuries. Nine drivers called 911 to report the beating, according to recordings the CHP released Thursday in response to public records request by the Associated Press. One caller said she appeared loaded, while another said she looked high or drunk. Pinnock claims in her suit that the CHP’s actions were an effort to shift blame by “misusing the criminal justice system to obtain privileged and private information to discredit (Pinnock) … or circumvent the discovery rules in civil rights violation matters.” The incident has drawn outrage from U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters calling it police brutality and demanded the officer be fired.

While outrage and public distrust of the police in Los Angeles rages on, the justice system in Detroit leaves many shocked by the comments of one judge. According to Ed White, Judge tells young Detroit man he need a beating, a young man who participated in a mob attack on a Detroit motorist needed a father to beat the hell out of him as a kid to discourage him from committing a crime, a judge said Thursday. The shocking comment by Wayne County Judge James Callahan came as he sentenced Latrez Cummings to six months in jail. White reports that Callahan said Cummings needed a dad, “someone to discipline you. Someone to beat the hell out of you when you made a mistake, as opposed to allowing you or encouraging you to do it to somebody else.” Cummings and four others pleaded guilty to the assault on Steve Utash who was in a coma for days after the attack. Apparently, after the judge’s remark, the assistant prosecutor Lisa Lindsay argued with the judge that the six month sentence was too light and many young black men without fathers don’t commit crimes. Callahan replied, a white judge himself: “Did I ever use the term ‘black’? It doesn’t matter if a person is black, white, yellow or red.” Despite the harsh tone, the judge said Cummings’ age and childhood were considered in the light sentence. As Callahan put it:”We’ve all been 19 years of age.”

While Cummings got off a little easier because of age for a vicious crime, a group of suburban white teens in Mississippi didn’t fair so well. A three year investigation into attacks on blacks in Mississippi’s capital of Jackson has grown to 10 indictments and six convictions, according to Jack Elliot, Hate crime investigation grows in Mississippi. The most recent indictments were made public Wednesday including two men and two women. The June 2011 death of James Craig Anderson, who was ran over by a pick up truck outside a Jackson hotel, started a broader investigation into reports claiming groups of young white men and women drive from the mostly white Rankin Country into majority black Jackson to assault blacks. Prosecutors said the suspect using target the homeless or people under the influence of alcohol. John Louis Blalack, 20, of Brandon; Sarah Adelia Graves, 21, of Crystal Springs; Robert Henry Rice, 23, of Brandon; and Shelbie Brooke Richards, 20, of Pearl, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges including conspiracy and committing a hate crime with each being released on a $100,000 bail. A tentative trial date is set for Sept. 15. Prosecutors said the assailants used their fists, beer bottles, sling shots and vehicles to attack. The assault on Anderson was caught by a hotel surveillance camera and received widespread attention after the video was obtained by news organization including the Associate Press. Four men pleaded guilty in the Anderson case and other offenses, while two other men pleaded guilty in other attacks.

While the justice system struggle to deal with the increase it seems in violent crimes and police department struggle to deal with the influx of criminals and public scrutiny, an old but constantly recycled issue has come up again with increasingly unjust consequences for some. What happened to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty? If you can’t remember or don’t know, here’s a refresher:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Author: Emma Lazarus

Well sadly, since the Great Recession, many U.S. cities are trying to eradicate homelessness not in a humanitarian way but by making it illegal to be homeless according to Arthur Delaney, More Cities Are Basically Making It Illegal To Be Homeless. Citywide bans on things homeless people need to survive have increased according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Delaney reports, key finding from the survey of 187 American cities show that since 2011:

Citywide bans on camping in public have increased by 60 percent.

Citywide bans on begging have increased by 25 percent.

Citywide bans on loitering, loafing, and vagrancy have increased by 35 percent.

Citywide bans on sitting or lying down in particular public places have increased by 43 percent.

Bans on sleeping in vehicles have increased by 119 percent.

The law center director Maria Foscarinis in a press release stated: “There is a severe shortage of affordable housing and a lack of emergency shelter options in our communities, leaving homeless people with no choice but to perform basic acts of survival in public spaces. Despite a lack of any available alternatives, more cities are choosing to turn the necessary conduct of homeless people into criminal activity. Such laws threaten the human and constitutional rights of homeless people, impose unnecessary costs on cities, and do nothing to solve the problems they purport to address.” According to government data, homelessness has declined 9 percent from January 2007 through January 2013 with 65 percent of the nation’s 610,042 homeless people staying in shelters any given night that month. Over those years, unsheltered homeless dropped by 23 percent. The law center report differs from government data noting it fails to account for several factors including jailed homeless people and other data suggest worsening homelessness such as a U.S. Conference of Mayors report that found a 4 percent increase in family homelessness from 2012 t0 2013.

A Decade’s Old Reminder to Stay Vigilant

According to the Associated Press, part of a landing gear from one of the airplanes that hit the World Trade Center on September 11,2001 may have been found between two building in lower Manhattan on Friday police report. The landing gear was wedged between the rear of 51 Park Place and the rear of the building behind it at 50 Murray Street, the NYPD said in a statement. Paul Browne, New York Police Department spokesman, described the twisted metal part as having levers and cables on it, measuring 3 feet wide by 1.5 feet deep and a visible Boeing Co. identification number. Browne’s not surprised it went undiscovered for a decade given the location saying, “The odds of this being wedged between there is amazing. It had to have fallen just the right way to make it into that space.” Browne confirmed that other wreckage has been found nearby even from the same buildings in years past. Working with the National Transportation Safety Board investigators, the police will determine if the piece is from American Arline or United Arline planes that crashed into the twin towers a decade ago killing thousands of people. The piece according to AP was discovered on Wednesday by surveyors of a planned Islamic community center at the location on behalf of the owners of the building and called 911 when the piece was seen from the roof. The police stated the medical examiner’s office will complete a health and safety evaluation to determine if human remains are present in the soil around the buildings.

The location of the landing gear was found three blocks away from ground zero where a mosque and community center were first announced several years ago. Opponents of the plans see the Muslim facilities as a disrespect to those at ground zero, while supporters cite freedom of religion and point out the site was not too close to where the Islamic extremists attacked on 9/11. The president of Soho Properties who owns 51 Park Place, Sharif El-Gamal, released a statement saying that workers called the city and police after the discovery and will cooperate to make sure the piece is removed with care. Patricia Riley, who lost her sister Lorraine Riley on 9/11 said the discovery was very strange stating,”Twelve years later we are still finding remnants of the attack on our country… For years to come we’ll continue to find things that we didn’t see before. Hopefully they’ll serve as a reminder that we have to stay vigilant.”

 

 

One Nation Under Pot With Liberty and Justice for All

Marijuana Industry

The War on Drugs will never end anytime soon, but some progress has been made to make marijuana at least medicinal marijuana legal in the United States with the help of an unlikely source. As more and more states legalized medicinal and non medicinal marijuana use, the more mom and pop dispensaries are popping up across the nation forcing the federal government to take action on a battle they might not win especially with growing support from the medical community and now labor unions. As you stroll down the busy streets of Los Angeles lines with a variety of wares for sale you might notice something a little bit different about your neighborhood friendly medicinal marijuana shop around the corner and for that matter pot dispensaries that dot the city. The difference you ask: On the door underneath the green cross, representing medical marijuana can be purchased here, is a sticker for the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) which is the largest retail union in the U.S.

The Venice Beach Care Center, one of three medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles staffed by due paying union members, symbolizes the growing the bond between medical marijuana industry and struggling labor unions. Another 49 in Los Angeles plan to join with the UFCW this year the union says, Reuters reports. During the last few years, the UFCW has increasingly become involved in campaigns to allow medical marijuana in California, 17 other states, and even Washington D.C. In the November elections, UFCW operatives helped efforts in Colorado where voter approved the measure that allows 21 years of age or older to carry at least one ounce or less of the drug. A law similar in Washington was approved as well as regulation of marijuana growers, processors and retailers according to Reuters. The strategy behind the support of marijuana from UFCW partly comes from the hope that the marijuana industry will create hundreds of thousands of members at a time to rebuild the labor union membership. Retail unions and organized labor has struggled to keep their collective bargaining power in recent years, but hope that the 3,000 UFCW members who work in the cannabis industry will keep growing. The problem remains whether or not the U.S. government will accept the industry whose product is illegal under federal law but increasingly accepted by states making it difficult to predict the number of job that will be created as well.  The president has already said publicly he will not pursue recreational pot users in Colorado and Washington since the legalization on Nov. 6, but will the government allow widespread sales of the drug since it is still illegal on the federal level.

Even with an uncertain future, many in the marijuana industry see great growth potential especially unions and retailers. According to Sea Change Stragtegy, a non profit research firm, estimates the market could grow to $8.9 billion by 2016 (think of all the tax money people) and a study done by Washington state’s Office of Financial Management said legalization could bring $1 billion in sales per year to the state which hols only 2 percent of the U.S. population. Dan Rush, leader of the UCFW cannabis division, hopes the industry expands to supports jobs across the country from growers to truck drivers to carpenters to retail clerks and could rival the alcohol industry or U.S crops estimating that 100,000 workers could be added to their unions in California alone. For now, marijuana retailers have invited the UFCW into their shops in hopes to legitimize their business and gain support against those who operate outside the law.

Of course not everyone supports the idea of unions in the marijuana industry, a prime example of this can be seen in Colorado where retailer see the legitimacy that the labor unions bring but worry that the support could crumble the shaky financial footing of their small operations. As one retailer in Denver explained that the concern is having a union shop will drive up costs and hurt the value of his business: “Colorado isn’t a big union state anyway. I was surprised that they put so much focus and money in here in the first place.” The struggle to legitimize a demonized industry continue in state’s where marijuana has been legalized. The UFCW’s Rush who is based in Oakland, California, remembers in 2009 when deciding to get involved with he marijuana industry as not all the leaders were sold, but eventually was able to persuade enough leaders that the same union that organized Hotess bakery workers could represent the people who made pot brownies according to Reuters. Last year in California federal authorites shut down 200 medical marijuana business including the first unionized shop demonstrating the gap between federal and state laws. Union leaders hope to help these business navigate through the legal jargon and pressure lawmakers to change as UFCW local 770 in Los Angeles is pushing a ballot measure to set zoning and safety standard for medical pot dispensaries as police and residents have complained about less reputable shops in some neighborhoods. Ayrn Taylor, 23 who works at Venice Beach Care Center, says, ” I feel safer with the union around.” The union gathers enough signatures for the local ballot in May limiting the number of dispensaries in Los Angeles to 130, while the 50 plus union dispensaries would be allowed to stay open even though their are 900 dispensaries believed to be in operation in Los Angeles according to one city councilman. If the ballot is approved, it would put most of these out of business and make the UFCW a major player in the legalized marijuana market.

Pedro Reyes Turns Guns Into Musical Instruments

Pedro Reyes Turns Guns Into Musical Instruments.

I thought this was truly a unique idea and send a clear message to people about how something that causes so much hurt can bring so much joy… take a page out of his book NRA. The guns of northern Mexico have found a new purpose instead of causing so many more deaths they are now making music. Mechanical hammers ping against once used ammunition magazines from assault rifles, while gun barrels cut to different lengths ring like marimbas and pistol parts strike metal plates like cymbals. Sculptor Pedro Reyes told the Associated Press that “it’s important to consider that many lives were taken with these weapons, as if a sort of exorcism was taking place.”He continued to say,”the music expelled the demons they held, as well as being a requiem for lives lost.”

The title of the project is called “Disarm” and he had the opportunity to choose from 6,700 guns that were seized or turned in by the army and police in Ciudad Juarez, a city that sees 10 killing a day in a population of 1.3 million people. The city had a murder rate of 230 per 100,000 inhabitants, while the nationwide rate for the U.S. was 4.8 for the year. Reyes said in an interviews while demonstrating his instruments that,”the dramatic thing is that this is just the tip of the iceberg of all the weapons that are seized every day and that the army has to destroy.” Reyes was well known already for his 2008 project called “Palas por Pistolas,” or “Pistols to Shovels,” where he used melted down weapons to make 1,527 shovels same as the number of weapons and planted the same number of trees. The new project began last year as Reyes explains,”normally, they bury or destroy them, but someone who works in the government said, `Would you be interested in making a sculpture with this metal?'” Reyes hopes to take his message global,”this project has a pacifist intent, to create a global consciousness about arms trafficking.”

Violence has become a theme in Mexican art as another artist, Teresa Margolles, uses artifacts collected from crime scenes from the violence plagued state of Sinaloa. The reason behind Reyes musical sculptures are explained,”It occurred to me to make musical instruments, because music is the opposite of weapons. This exercise of transformation we see with the guns, is what we would like to see in society.”

Meteor Streaks Across Russian Urals, Leaves Nearly 1000 Injured (VIDEO, LIVE UPDATES)

Meteor Streaks Across Russian Urals, Leaves Nearly 1000 Injured (VIDEO, LIVE UPDATES).

Above is a picture of the impact site in Russia where today a large meteor hit leaving many injured and several questions unanswered. We were just lucky this time that the meteor was one of the smaller ones that travel by earth. With a flash and a  booming shock wave, a meteor over Russia’s Ural Mountains Friday exploded with the force of an atomic bomb injuring 1,000 people as it blasted windows and caused panic in Chelyabinsk, a city of 1 million. NASA estimates the size to be that of a bus and weighing 7,000 tons. Videos of the dramatic fireball over the city show streaming contrails arcing toward the horizon just after sunrise. The meteor came just after a 150 foot asteroid passed within 17,000 miles of Earth. The European Space Agency do not believe the two are connected just coincidence.

The meteor enter the atmosphere at 9:20 am local time at 33,000 mph and broke into pieces about 18-32 in the sky according to The Russian Academy of Science. NASA said that the energy released was in hundreds of kilotons. The shock wave from the blast blew in 1 million square feet of glass according to city officials and 3,000 buildings in Chelyabinsk were damaged. Most of the injuries were from flying glass as an estimated 1,100 people sought medical attentions and 48 were hospitalized. There no immediate words on deaths or anyone struck by fragments of the meteor.

President Vladimir Putin summoned the nation’s emergency minister and ordered repairs. Some fragments fell into a reservoir outside the town of Chebarkul according to the Interior Ministry leaving a 26 foot hole in the ice. Injury from the sonic booms when meteors enter the atmosphere are extraordinarily rare. The many broken windows leave residents exposed to the cold as temperatures are expected to drop to minus 20 degrees Celsius or minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit overnight. The regional governor has asked anyone who can repair windows please help. Social media including Twitter was flooded with videos from dashboard cameras that Russians mount on their cars in case of corrupt traffic police or accident disputes. Strong reactions from many prominent Russian leaders also surfaced calling for more research and funding from World Powers to come up with a way to prevent falling space objects from causing devastation. NASA said the fireball was the largest since 1908, when a meteor hit Tunguska, Siberia about 3,000 miles away from Chelyabinsk and destroyed 80 million trees.

The 150 foot space rock that passed Earth on Friday was dubbed Asteroid 2012 DA14. The asteroid was invisible to U.S. astronomers, but Australian astronomers used binoculars and telescopes to watch it across the night sky. According to Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, called the event rare and historic since usually the fireballs are not seen because they fall over oceans  or remote areas.

 

The Russian meteor could of led to a serious problem in the area hosting nuclear and chemical weapons disposal facilities. The meteor struck only 60 miles from the Mayak nuclear storage and disposal facility where dozens of tons of weapons grade plutonium is held noted Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia. A chemical weapons disposal facility at Shchuchye also has 6,000 tons of nerve agents including sarin and VX about 14 percent of the chemical weapons Russia has committed to destroy.

 

 

 

 

According to the Huffington Post article, one of the most popular jokes was that the meteorite was supposed to fall on Dec. 21, 2012 – when many believed the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world – but was delivered late by Russia’s notoriously inefficient postal service.

Amish Beard Cutters Sentenced Friday

Amish Beard Cutters Sentenced Friday.

I guess no one escapes judgement not even the Amish. On Friday, the ring leader in the hair and beard cutting attacks on fellow Amish was sentences to 15 years in prison and 15 family members were sentenced to one to seven years in prison. The U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster said in sentencing Sam Mullet Sr. 67 that the victims were terrorized and traumatized. He continued is saying that each of the defendants had benefited from the First Amendment and had violated their fellow Amish constitutional rights protecting religious practices such as jury service exemption and allowing Amish children to leave school at 14.  The judge concluded by informing the defendants that they had two weeks to file an appeal which the defense has already indicated such action. Mullet, the ring leader of the group in question, said before his sentencing that if his community is seen as a cult he would take the punishment for everyone and conveyed to the courtroom, victims and his family alike, that he has only tried to help people. The government had asked for a life sentence, while the defense asked for two years or less, so 15 years seems pretty fair. The 10 men and women were involved in five attacks last year in Amish communities in 2011. The attacks according to the government were retaliations against Amish who defied or denounced Mullet’s authoritarian style. The Amish believe the Bible instructs women to grow long hair and men to grow beards once married as a result cutting it would be offensive to the Amish. The Federal prosecutor Bridget Brennan urged the judge to punish Mullet adequately as he is a danger to this community and can control these 15 defendants. U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, said he believes the law would withstand constitutional challenge by the defendants and that the sentence for Mullet was appropriately harsh and his conduct in court shows his lack of remorse and respect for the law. The defendants were charged with a hate crime because prosecutors believe religious differences brought on the attacks. Nine of the ten men are locked up waiting sentencing, while the six women who have children were freed on bond. Mullet’s family doesn’t believe that is was a hate crime and that all of the victims had their hair grow back. Arlene Miller sees it differently as her husband an Amish bishop was attacked. She believes that Mullet deserved a tough sentence and the others should get cult-deprogramming counseling. In the end, there were no winners and no happy endings in the case.

 

Poisoned Lottery Winner’s Widow Should Get Most Of His $2 Million Estate, Lawyer Says

Poisoned Lottery Winner’s Widow Should Get Most Of His $2 Million Estate, Lawyer Says.

What some people will do for money these days. According to the Chicago Sun Times, another twist in the mystery of the poisoned lottery winner, a lawyer representing the widow has produced documents that show two thirds of the deceased North side businessman’s $2 million estate goes to the widow. Attorney Al-Haroon Husain found an agreement that the deceased signed before death stipulating his wife in the even of his death would get his interest in the dry cleaning operation. The agreement was signed on May 2 said Husain who is representing the wife in a pending court case to divvy up the assets and winning lottery ticket of her deceased husband. Money always complicates things, doesn’t it? The brother of the deceased doesn’t believe the documents authenticity and find it highly suspicious that the document appears now. Her husband, Urooj Khan the man in question, hit the jackpot weeks after signing the agreement and was found dead July 20 of cyanide poisoning. The homicide has caused family tension and made international headlines after his body was exhumed to determine how the cyanide got in his system. His brother, Imtiaz Khan, claims that the only child of the deceased is being excluded from any inheritance according to court papers. The matter is further complicated because there is no will. While the estate is valued at $2 million, Husain argues that the business and real estate combined at $1.32 million can no longer be included since they belong to the wife, Ansari. That means the estate is only worth $680,000 which includes the lottery win, so without a will state law dictates that the two survivors, wife and daughter, must split the estate. When told Khan’s brother brushed off the validity of the agreement, Husain, said that it’s legal and he wrote it himself. However, Husain questions why the deceased decided to ink the agreement and list heirs which is typically done in a will. The medical examiner initially ruled his death natural with hardening of the arteries, but on the urging of a relative to re-examine the body, the medical examiner changed it to a homicide in November when he determined from a toxicology report that it was cyanide poisoning. As to how the cyanide got into his system, perhaps by inhaling or eating something tainted with the poison. Test results are expected next week. No arrest have been made and no suspects have been identified. Ansari denies any involvement in her husband’s death. She has said that the night before he died, she made him dinner, he went to bed, and fell sick in the night then was pronounced dead early the next morning at Evanston hospital. Who to believe? This sounds like something out of a lifetime movie.