By Alex Dobuzinskis
Jan 5 (Reuters) - Retired Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy is taking aim at what he sees as knee-jerk support for marijuana legalization among his fellow liberals, in a project that carries special meaning for the self-confessed former Oxycontin addict.
Kennedy, 45, a Democrat and younger son of the late "Lion of the Senate" Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, is leading a group called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) that opposes legalization and seeks to rise above America's culture war over pot with its images of long-haired hippies battling law-and-order conservatives.
Project proposals include increased funding for mental health courts and treatment of drug dependency, so those caught using marijuana might avoid incarceration, get help and potentially have their criminal records cleared.
Kennedy wants cancer patients and others with serious illnesses to be able to obtain drugs with cannabinoids, but in a more regulated way that could involve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration playing a larger role.
The eight-term former congressman from Rhode Island and the group he chairs will put forth their plan on Wednesday with a media appearance in Denver.
Their efforts follow the November election that saw voters in Washington state and Colorado become the first in the nation to approve measures to tax and regulate pot sales for recreational use. Kennedy's group is seeking to shift the debate and reclaim momentum for the anti-legalization movement, in part by proposing new solutions with appeal to liberals, such as taking a public health approach to combat marijuana use.
Legalization backers have argued that the so-called War on Drugs launched in 1971 by former President Richard Nixon has failed to stem marijuana use, and has instead saddled otherwise law-abiding pot smokers with criminal records that may block their avenues to landing a successful job.
Kennedy faults the U.S. government for allocating too much of its $25 billion drug control budget to law enforcement rather than to treatment and prevention.
"Yes, the drug war has been a failure, but let's look at the science and let's look at what works. And let's not just throw out the baby with the bathwater," Kennedy, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2011, said in a telephone interview.
The U.S. Department of Justice is still developing a policy in regard to the new state legalization measures.
President Barack Obama said in an interview with ABC News last month that it did not make sense for the federal government to "focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that, under state law, that's legal."
Conservative political commentator David Frum, a speech writer for former President George W. Bush, is also a board member on Project SAM, which lends it a bipartisan flavor.
For his part, Kennedy is aiming many of his arguments toward liberals like himself. Polls show Democrats largely favoring legalizing marijuana, and among the 18 states that allow medical marijuana, several are in the West and Northeast and are heavily Democratic.
"The fact is people are afraid on the (political) left to look like they're not for an alternative to incarceration and criminalization, and they're afraid they're not going to look sympathetic to a cancer patient" who might use marijuana, Kennedy said. As a result, he said the legalization position mistakenly comes to be seen as "glamorous."
Kennedy admits to having smoked pot but also said that, as an asthma sufferer, he "found other ways to get high."
In 2006, he crashed his car into a security barrier in Washington, D.C., and soon after sought treatment for drug dependency. He said he was addicted to the pain reliever Oxycontin at that time and suffered from alcoholism. He added that he has been continuously sober for nearly two years.
Kennedy, who was married for the first time in 2011, said he worries his 8-month-old son might be predisposed to drug abuse - due to a kind of genetic "trigger" - and that is part of his fight against legalization.
He also said he wants to "reduce the environmental factors that pull that trigger," such as marijuana use being commonly accepted.
Meanwhile, another prominent figure from Rhode Island, the newly crowned Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, is making waves by also objecting to legalization. She told Fox News this week there are "too many bad habits that go with the drug."
In Washington state, Alison Holcomb was campaign director for the legalization measure, which billed itself as having a public health element to help people dependent on marijuana.
The measure, which is not set to go into full effect until after state regulators spend most of 2013 setting guidelines, would allow adults 21 and older to buy marijuana at special stores.
Holcomb argued that drug dependency courts are more geared toward users of hardcore drugs, and that the approach her group put forward is the sensible one.
"I don't know what a public health approach without legalization looks like, if you're still arresting people," she said.
Taxes on marijuana sales would generate, at the high end of estimates, over $500 million a year with $67 million of that going to a state agency that provides drug treatment, said Mark Cooke, policy adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington state, which supported the campaign.
Also included in the tax revenue would be $44 million for education and public health campaigns - including a phone line for people wanting to quit using marijuana, Cooke said. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Gunna Dickson)
Gov. Scott Walker (R) was repeatedly criticized by Wisconsin's Democratic Party for failing to chastise state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) for his controversial remarks on Kwanzaa.
"Almost no black people today care about Kwanzaa -- just white left-wingers who try to shove this down black people's throats in an effort to divide Americans," Grothman said in a Dec. 28 press release. "Why are hard-core left wingers still trying to talk about Kwanzaa -- the supposed African-American holiday celebration between Christmas and New Year’s?"
Stephanie Findley, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's Black Caucus, said in a Jan. 2 statement that "Walker should say whether or not he associates himself with and approves of the disgusting comments made by a chief ally such as Sen. Glenn Grothman":
"Grothman, who has minimized the honor due Martin Luther King Jr., says he knows what's best for black people and he directly attacks basic principles of religious liberty in his ill-advised screed. He took a time to celebrate peace and goodwill toward all and warped it into a narrow political appeal to bigots.
"Does Glenn Grothman, in his attacks on African-Americans and religious liberty, speak for Scott Walker's Republican Party? If not, Walker must say so now."
In an interview with 27 News, Walker said Grothman's choice to release a contentious statement on Kwanzaa "just doesn't make any sense" and suggested he shift his focus back to politics.
"I've commented on Kwanzaa in the past and everybody's got a different opinion, but I don't know why someone like that would go out of their way to alienate people over something that some people support," Walker said. "Our standpoint is he needs to be focused on things regarding state business, not issues like that."
State Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate doubled down on criticism of the governor, calling Walker's response "tepid."
“Scott Walker’s tepid response to Glenn Grothman’s outrageous comments is wholly inadequate,” Tate said Friday. “Religious intolerance and blatant bigotry aren’t merely ‘different opinions.’ Anything less than an explicit rejection of these offensive remarks leaves the impression that Scott Walker endorses Glenn Grothman’s brand of extremism.”
DETROIT -- A court official who was asked to remove a Detroit child from her home just weeks before she was fatally stabbed turned down the state's request because he believed there was no immediate danger, according to a transcript released Friday.
"They're in no more danger today than they were yesterday. And no one came to court yesterday to ask for the children to be removed," Richard Smart, a referee in the family division of Wayne County Circuit Court, said on Nov. 23, referring to Tameria Greene and her four siblings.
On Sunday, five weeks later, 8-year-old Tameria was fatally stabbed at home. Her mother, Semeria Greene, has been charged with murder.
The Michigan Department of Human Services had sought to remove Tameria and the other children from their home. The detailed petition presented to Smart alleged that Tameria had been bitten by her mother on her hand, forearm and face. The agency said there were multiple marks and bruises elsewhere.
"It is my feeling that it's contrary to her well-being to be placed with the family and they need to be removed," caseworker Rosalyn Green told Smart. "If there's no relatives available, then we have no other option than to place them in, you know, foster care."
Smart said he hadn't heard anything that would compel their removal, although he suggested that Greene should move out or voluntarily get the children to another home.
He warned her that the Department of Human Services could return to court with an emergency petition and try to take the children.
"I think it would be injurious to the children to have them snatched in the middle of the night, which is, of course, their ability to do so," Smart said.
Referees regularly preside over hearings in Michigan abuse and neglect cases. They are attorneys like judges. However, judges still have a right to intervene in the cases.
Smart told the department that it could appeal his decision to a judge, but the state declined. Instead, the removal request was set for a January trial.
"It's generally not done. It's not successful," agency spokesman David Akerly said of appeals. "The referee had signed off on this. It's highly unlikely you're going to get that changed or overturned. It's just not the norm."
The department has defended its work in the Greene case. Officials disclosed Friday that caseworkers first tried to file the petition on Nov. 15 but court was closed. It was subsequently rejected because of minor errors before finally being accepted on Nov. 21, two days before the hearing.
"We will continue to investigate our own involvement with this case in its entirety, by way of a comprehensive review by our Office of Family Advocate," director Maura Corrigan said.
Semeria Greene, 26, is being held in jail without bond. She faces life in prison without parole if convicted of felony murder, the equivalent of first-degree murder.
Lets publish people on welfare and unemployment we have a right to know that as well.
Washington – Lawmakers in Connecticut – still stunned from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting – are moving forward with legislation that could make public the names and addresses of 170,000 handgun permit holders in the state. The measure, introduced by state Rep. Stephen Dargan, is the latest effort to clamp down on guns in Connecticut. If passed, the bill would reverse a 20-year decision by state lawmakers to keep the personal information confidential. The legislation would make the information fair game under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Dargan told FoxNews.com on Friday the measure was not intended to pit gun control activists and pro-gun groups against each other. Instead, it’s “to get a broader discussion going on gun issues and mental health in the state.” Critics say being able to obtain the names and addresses of gun permit holders is an invasion of privacy, but others argue that people in the community have the right to know who owns a gun and who does not. In December, an upstate New York newspaper came under fire for publishing the names and addresses of gun owners in Westchester and Rockland counties. The story inspired heated reactions among readers and gun groups, who traded jabs by posting personal information about the newspaper’s employees online. The actions highlight a growing backlash against gun owners after a string of shooting in the last five years, which includes the massacres at Virginia Tech and at a Colorado movie theatre. Since the Newtown, Conn., shooting last month, gun owners across the country say they have been vilified and ostracized. Many argue lawmakers are using what happened in Newtown to advance their own political agenda, but Dargan says it’s not true. “Obviously, something needs to be done,” he said. “I want to make sure we look at all the ways we can prevent another horrific shooting from happening.” Dargan’s bill is one of many expected to be brought up and debated in statehouses across the country. He says while his proposals are “middle of the road,” he’s already gotten calls and emails from gun advocates telling him to back down. “This is the least invasive bill that’s going to come up this year,” he said. “We need to open up dialogue in the state. Let’s take a peek at the issue, see what works and see what doesn’t.” State Sen. Martin Looney introduced a measure that would make it illegal for anyone convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor or are under a court-ordered restraining or protective order from buying bullets. The idea is already being criticized by gun groups in the state. “A gun without ammunition is only a club,” Looney has said. “We really need to restrict access to ammunition.” Calls to Looney’s office for additional comment were not returned. Some gun owners say that the federal law that bans the sale of ammunition to felons is a strong enough filter. Rich Burgess, president of Connecticut Carry, said Looney’s plan “has nothing to do with stopping these kinds of madmen from committing heinous acts” and has said he is “dumbfounded” by these bills. Prior to the tragedy at Sandy Hook, which left 20 children and six school employees dead, gun control was not a particularly polarizing topic in the state. The firearms manufacturing business in Connecticut had thrived in a state that boasts some of the strongest gun control laws in the country. Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/01/04/connecticut-lawmaker-wants-names-gun-owners-to-be-made-public/#ixzz2H2QSB5z4
ut here we have a legislator that doesn’t just want to pass laws that are tangentially restrictive. She wants to purposefully use her powers to write laws to target individuals with whom she disagrees, take away their freedoms and liberties, and all in the hopes that the citizens she is oppressing might move away from her state.
As New Hampshirite Steve MacDonald notes, “this sounds like tyranny.”
Imagine if a legislator had written a blog post targeting the freedoms of gays, or women, or some other minority? One would think that the media would go wild with such a story. But here we have an elected official suggesting that government be used in the United States of America to eliminate freedoms for certain citizens in order to gain political control and the media is silent.
Sounds like tyranny, indeed.
Although the Illinois Senate's Executive Committee voted 8 to 5 today to support a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, the Senate adjourned without voting on the measure. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Senate's failure to take a final vote came after a furious lobbying campaign by the Catholic Conference of Illinois and Cardinal Francis George.
In testifying against the measure, Springfield Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, echoing Cardinal George's earlier attack on the bill, insisted that the proposed law "would radically redefine what marriage is for everybody" by undermining the concept of the "natural family." "Neither two men nor two women," he declared, "can possibly form a marriage," and the "law would be wrong if it said that they could." The notion that marriage is between a man and a woman, Paprocki proclaimed, "is given to us in human nature, and thus by nature's God."
In a post on this site a few days ago I challenged the logic and morality of a similar argument by Cardinal George. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/cardinal-george-same-sex_b_2393892.html
What follows is an email exchange I had with a Mr. J.W. after that earlier post:
Read you in Huffpo. This is an appeal to your intelligence and sense of legal justice.
Marriage is a vow between a man and a woman. It is a word that measures. As such, law recognizes this fact in nature. You can no more arbitrarily change the meaning of the word "marriage" than you can change the meaning of the word "inch." Such a change renders obsolete (destroys) all other measurements founded on the obvious principle of an inch. It destroys all boundaries written in law. . . .
If we can erase the meaning of "marriage," like a mere line in language, what line can we not erase? The boundary of age? Age is arbitrary! The boundary of freedom? No laws, no words can be counted on to differentiate between, criminal or lawyer, prison or mansion, closet or courtroom. . . .
When [people] pass judgment ("Catholics are bigots") on the Cardinal and his flock, they reveal themselves as LIARS. This is the only real term left for fools tinkering with the absolute fact of marriage.
Dear Mr. W,
Thanks for taking the time to share your views. The problem is that you misunderstand the nature of law. Marriage -- at least in the debates over same-sex marriage -- is a legal concept. Various faiths can decide for themselves whether they want to recognize or not to recognize same-sex marriage. That is entirely up to them. But "marriage" as it is involved in the debate over same-sex marriage is a legal, not a religious, concept. It is defined, recognized and enforcement by the state.
Like any legal concept, "marriage" can evolve over time. Indeed, that is the very nature of law. As scientific, economic, social, political, cultural, moral and psychological understandings change over time, so too do legal concepts.
The "right to vote" was once defined as applicable only to propertied white men over the age of 21. Then it was redefined to include all white men over the age of 21. Then it was radically redefined in 1865 in the Thirteenth Amendment to include black men. Then it was radically redefined again in 1920 in the Nineteenth Amendment to include women. Then it was redefined yet again in 1971 to include all persons over the age of 18. The definition of the legal concepts evolve.
Indeed, this is true of almost every legal concept. The meaning of the word "search" in the Fourth Amendment, once defined as a physical intrusion into a physical space, was was redefined in 1968 after the world discovered wiretapping and parabolic microphones.
Similarly, the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of "equal protection of the laws" changed profoundly when the Court held that "separate but equal" was not "equal" and that women could not constitutionally be prohibited from being lawyers.
Such familiar legal concepts as "insanity," "property," "liberty," "contract" and "speeding" have all evolved over time. Indeed, the meaning of "marriage" itself has changed. At one time, most states had anti-miscegenation laws that defined marriage as a contract between two people of the same race. And, of course, the legal age limits for marriage have also changed over time.
Anyway, you get the point. As much as you might want to cling to a particular, traditional definition of "marriage," that is simply not how the law operates. Tradition is useful, but it is never determinative. What matters is not what is traditional, but what is right.
Thank you for your conversation. So, lets skip the evolving legal concepts and turn to the fact that Catholics will again be barred from participation in legislation because of their faith, as you "cling" faithfully to the modern progressive legal concepts. It is a convenience to ignore that separation of Church and state runs both ways.
It seems like Catholics are headed to the same fate as Thomas More. As with Henry VIII, many heads will roll to accomplish the latest progressive legal interpretation of marriage.
Dear Mr. W,
It's fine for Catholics to participate fully in politics, but their arguments, as for all citizens, should not consist of trying to impose their religious beliefs on those who don't share them. If there are good policy reasons not to recognize same-sex marriage, then we should discuss them. But religious belief is not a policy argument.
And no "heads will roll." No Catholic priest will be required to perform a same-sex marriage, no Catholic will be compelled to enter into a same-sex marriage, and no Catholic will be prohibited from entering into an opposite-sex marriage. In fact, the issue of same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the rights of Catholics, except insofar as they want everyone else to live according to their own religious beliefs.
Postscript: Not only did no Catholic heads roll today in the Illinois Senate, but Cardinal George, Bishop Paprocki and the Catholic Conference of Illinois once again "rolled" the will of the people of Illinois. But take heart, for this too shall pass.
The fight to expand the definition of family to encompass the diversity of actual families continues in 2013. Legislators in Illinois, Minnesota and Rhode Island are preparing marriage equality bills.
On another front, Immigration Equality's efforts paid off recently when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, in a move praised by the White House, included protections for binational same-sex couples in its guidelines for comprehensive immigration reform. That effort has gained new traction as the GOP tries to mend its disastrous alienation of Hispanic voters.
The year's top billing in the struggle for marriage equality goes to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), which in March will hear oral arguments in two marriage cases: Hollingsworth v. Perry (regarding California's Proposition 8), appealed from the Ninth Circuit; and United States v. Windsor, appealed from the Second Circuit, which knocked down the one-man-one-woman definition of marriage in Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The Ninth Circuit, instead of endorsing U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's sweeping 2010 decision that Prop 8 was "unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses" of the 14th Amendment, narrowed it to declare that rights previously granted cannot be taken away. SCOTUS could uphold this, which would not affect states that have not allowed gay marriage. Or it could sweep away all 31 state constitutional amendments barring gay marriage and impose marriage equality nationwide. Or it could rule that there is no constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.
This array of options is a bit scary with such a closely divided court. At the same time, a sign of our growing success is the fact that David Blankenhorn, an expert witness for Prop 8's proponents in 2010, has changed his mind and now accepts gay marriage.
A key question raised by the high court in both cases concerns standing -- whether Prop 8's proponents have the right to appeal Perry (state officials having declined), and whether House Republicans have the right to appeal Windsor (President Obama having refused to continue defending DOMA). If the appellants lack standing, the case is thrown out and the pro-gay trial court ruling stands.
I agree with marriage equality advocates who favor upholding the Second Circuit on DOMA and either upholding the Ninth Circuit on Prop 8 or denying standing. This gets federal recognition for gay marriages in states that allow them, without compelling other states. If the court imposes marriage equality on all the states now, the resulting backlash could keep dozens of state legislatures in obstructionist hands for a long time. Many liberal jurists warn against getting ahead of ourselves. A more modest ruling affirming states' rights would allow the political process more time to work. After another decade of rising public support for equality, a SCOTUS ruling granting equality nationwide would be less of a provocation.
This high-stakes court battle occurs against a broader backdrop. Despite the election, Republicans continue pursuing their alternate America in which plutocrats replace the middle class with a fend-for-yourselves feudalism; white heterosexual men claim a divine right to perpetual dominance; the bossiest form of Christian fundamentalism is the state religion; and know-nothingism cripples our ability to compete internationally in industries that depend on science and its application.
Endurance was a crucial virtue in carrying us this far. We must remain engaged and clear-eyed for the battles ahead, even as we represent our families in the public arena. Those committed to a more intolerant America have not laid down their weapons. As I finished writing this, I read that the Kansas Department of Children and Families has sued a sperm donor for child support because it doesn't recognize the relationship of the child's lesbian parents. Happy new year.
BALTIMORE — Same-sex couples in Maryland were greeted with cheers and noisemakers held over from New Year's Eve parties, as gay marriage became legal in the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line on New Year's Day.
James Scales, 68, was married to William Tasker, 60, on Tuesday shortly after midnight by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake inside City Hall.
"It's just so hard to believe it's happening," Scales said shortly before marrying his partner of 35 years.
Six other same-sex couples also were being married at City Hall. Ceremonies were taking place in other parts of the state as well.
The ceremonies follow a legislative fight that pitted Gov. Martin O'Malley against leaders of his Catholic faith. Voters in the state, founded by Catholics in the 17th century, sealed the change by approving a November ballot question.
"There is no human institution more sacred than that of the one that you are about to form," Rawlings-Blake said during the brief ceremony. "True marriage, true marriage, is the dearest of all earthly relationships."
Brigitte Ronnett, who also was married, said she hopes one day to see full federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Maryland, Maine and Washington state were the first states to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, in November, a development Ronnett said was significant.
"I think it's a great sign when you see that popular opinion is now in favor of this," said Ronnett, 51, who married Lisa Walther, 51, at City Hall.
Same-sex couples in Maryland have been able to get marriage licenses since Dec. 6, but they did not take effect until Tuesday.
In 2011, same-sex marriage legislation passed in the state Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates. O'Malley hadn't made the issue a key part of his 2011 legislative agenda, but indicated that summer that he was considering backing a measure similar to New York's law, which includes exemptions for religious organizations.
Shortly after, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore wrote to O'Malley that same-sex marriage went against the governor's faith.
"As advocates for the truths we are compelled to uphold, we speak with equal intensity and urgency in opposition to your promoting a goal that so deeply conflicts with your faith, not to mention the best interests of our society," wrote O'Brien, who served as archbishop of the nation's first diocese from October 2007 to August 2011.
The governor was not persuaded. He held a news conference in July 2011 to announce that he would make same-sex marriage a priority in the 2012 legislative session. He wrote back to the archbishop that "when shortcomings in our laws bring about a result that is unjust, I have a public obligation to try to change that injustice."
The measure, with exemptions for religious organizations that choose not to marry gay couples, passed the House of Delegates in February in a close vote. O'Malley signed it in March. Opponents then gathered enough signatures to put the bill to a statewide vote, and it passed with 52 percent in favor.
In total, nine states and the District of Columbia have approved same-sex marriage. The other states are Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
In February 2011, the New York State Democratic Committee received a cheque for $100,000 from a company called the Improvement Fund, LLC, according to financial disclosure reports. A few months later the same company gave $15,000 to the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee. In fact, between January 2010 and now, Improvement Fund, LLC has been a major player the financing of campaigns.
Contributing to a wide range of parties, political groups, and candidates -- including independents, Republicans, Democrats, and the Real Estate Board PAC -- the company has injected nearly $500,000 into New York State politics since 2010. Most recently, the Improvement Fund gave $40,000 each to both the Real Estate Board PAC and the Independence Party of New York.
However, for a company with such an appetite for politics and the financial means to satisfy it, there is very little information about what Improvement Fund LLC actually is and does. Financial disclosure reports list the company's address as 60 Columbus Ave., but a visit to this location provides no indication of this entity actually being located here.
Another major political donor, AGS Ventures II, LLC, also gives its address as 60 Columbus Ave., but a visit to this address shows that the company is not listed here. AGS Ventures contributed a total of $100,000 to the New York State Democratic Committee in 2011. A search for this company turns up no results.
RMLC LLC The Related Co., also listed its location as 60 Columbus Ave. and also contributed $100,000 to the committee in 2011. As with Improvement Fund LLC and AGS Ventures II, LLC, no information on this company is available.
One donor which does operate out of 60 Columbus Ave. is The Related Companies LP, a major real estate developer in New York headed by billionaire Stephen M. Ross. Related Companies LP gave $25,000 earlier this year to New York State Senate Republican Committee. Ross is also the former head of a now defunct company called AGS Ventures, Inc.
A New York Times article from 2009 by David H. Halbfinger linked Ross to the Improvement Fund LLC, saying that Ross contributed $25,000 to then-Gov. David A. Paterson's campaign through "an entity called the Improvement Fund."
Joanna Rose, a media relations representative for Ross' firm, Related Companies, declined to comment, saying that "we don't comment on contributions." Rose did not respond to inquiries about whether Related is connected to the Improvement Fund, AGS Ventures, and RMLC LLC.
Other companies operating out of 60 Columbus Ave. made no political donations in the past six years, according to campaign financial disclosure reports.
But 60 Columbus Ave. is not the only thing AGS Ventures II, LLC and Improvement Fund LLC have in common. In their filings with the New York State Department of State Division of Corporations, these two companies listed Corporation Service Company at 80 State Street, Albany under entity address information. Corporation Services Companies, which provides statutory representation services, declined to provide any information for the companies, citing client privilege as a reason.
As for RMLC LLC, The Related CO., this company is not listed with the State Division of Corporations at all.
Forming a Limited Liability Company in New York State is no complicated matter. The state requires organizers to file Articles of Organization, which is a two-page document where the only address required is the address to which the state can mail legal documents, and the address of the filing agent, which in the case of AGS Ventures II, LLC and Improvement Fund LLC is the Corporation Services Company. An organizer must sign the Articles of Organization but he or she does not need to be a member of the LLC. The cost of filing Articles of Organization is $200.
Since 2010, the Improvement Fund LLC, AGS Ventures II, LLC and RMLC LLC the Related Co. have contributed a combined total of over $700,000 to New York State political groups. But the original source of this money and the motives behind the contributions are unknown.
Real estate companies are traditionally major contributors to political parties and campaigns across the country, and with financial disclosure laws it is generally possible to track where contributions come from. But according to a briefing paper by the League of Women Voters of New York State Education Foundation and the League of Women Voters of New York State, there is a trend among firms to create Limited Liability Companies which allow them to bypass the lower contribution limits imposed on corporations. Under New York State campaign finance law, LLCs have the same status as individuals and are therefore allowed to contribute up to $102,300 per year to political parties. Corporations are only allowed to contribute $5,000.
Mark Mullaney, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, says these companies are referred to as 'shell' groups -- companies that don't really exist as a business, but contribute money to political groups. This is a fairly common occurrence, says Mullaney, but it is very difficult to determine whether these companies exist for the sole purpose of giving political contributions. Another difficulty with these entities, says Mullaney, is with tracing their original source. Oftentimes contributors will transfer funds to a lawyer who will establish the LLC, thereby making it impossible to trace the original source of the funds. Mullaney adds that many of these shell companies are established in Delaware because this state has very low disclosure requirements for the establishment of LLCs.
According to a study by the Citizens Union of the City of New York, individuals can "avoid contribution limits by setting up shell limited liability corporations (LLCs) or using commonly controlled LLCs or partnerships (LLPs) to make multiple over‐the‐limit, but allowable, contributions."
In effect, LLCs and LLPs provide donors with a mechanism to both evade contributions limits and to remain anonymous.
But with limited information available about some companies it is difficult to pinpoint who these individuals are.
"There's largely no information because they don't truly exist," said Denise Roth-Barber, managing director of research at the National Institute on Money in State Politics, adding that this has a "darkening effect on disclosure because you don't know who these entities are."
A study by Suzanne Novak and Seema Shah at the Brennan Center for Justice, stated that "New York's treatment of limited liability companies (LLCs) under its campaign finance law is a loophole that allows individuals and business entities legally to circumvent contribution limits placed on corporations."
The study goes on to recommend that, in order to curb the influence of money in politics, "contributions from non‐political accounts of affiliated unions, LLCs, LLPs, and corporations should be treated as coming from a single source, and the enforcement body should produce a list of related sources for candidates to check contributions against."
Since the Citizen United ruling, money has flowed much more freely to political parties and candidates. But Mullaney says that establishment of shell companies "flies in the face" of one of the cornerstones of the Citizen's United ruling, which is that allowing unlimited money from corporations is not damaging because of disclosure requirements. However, with the loophole of shell companies it is possible to entirely obscure the source of contributions.
"People who have money are going to find ways to give it to politicians and try to get involved in politics," said Mullaney.
The logic behind the Citizen's United ruling was that people, corporations, and organizations have the right to free speech, and one way in which free speech expressed is through the expression of political opinions. However, disclosure reports indicate that donors often contribute to such a wide range of political candidates and parties that their money goes to contradicting ideologies.
Roth-Barber said that many businesses donate to various political parties in an attempt to guarantee a seat at the table regardless of who is in power. She said the Institute of Money in State Politics can track what type of businesses are donating but cannot determine how they benefit from their contributions.
But if businesses and special interest groups are donating across the entire political spectrum, it is unlikely that the donations are ideologically motivated, so contributors must be benefiting from them in some way.
Contributors to the New York State Democratic Committee include many real estate developers whose desire to be involved in the political process may be easy to speculate about. But other donors, like the Empire Dental PAC, which donated $25,000 to the New York State Democratic Committee in 2012, are a good example of how money may play a role in other less obvious aspects of the political process.
Overall, Empire Dental PAC contributed over $568,000 to various New York Democratic party groups since the start of 2011, including $130,000 to the state party, $226,000 to the Democratic Assembly Committee, $112,000 to the Democratic State Senate Committee, not to mention $55,900 to the Cuomo '14 committee.
During the same period, the PAC also contributed $370,800 to Republican groups in New York State, including $320,300 to the Republican State Senate Committee, and $50,500 to the Republican Assembly Committee.
According to website, "Empire Dental Political Action Committee (EDPAC) is a bipartisan political action committee of New York State dentists that serves and protects the interests of NYSDA members." One of these interests may be tort law reform, which would protect medical practitioners, including dentists, from exorbitant insurance and lawyer's fees for malpractice lawsuits.
New York is an extremely litigious state when it comes to malpractice suits. According to a Daily News article, hospitals in the state spent $1.6 billion in lawsuit related costs in 2009, and "the typical Bronx obstetrician pays an astronomical $190,000 a year for malpractice insurance."
In 2011, Gov. Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team proposed a plan that would cut the state Medicaid budget by $2.3 billion. One of the 79 changes the plan suggested was a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages awarded to victims in malpractice suits.
According to a Legal As She Is Spoke article, "proposed cuts to the healthcare industry's budget are usually met with strong opposition from hospital workers unions and lobbying groups," but this reform received wide support from those sectors. Citing the New York Times, the article said the Greater New York Hospital Association projected tort reform could save the healthcare industry $700 million a year, but opponents of the law said tort reform was thrown into the Medicaid-reform package as part of a deal with the healthcare industry in order to get them on Cuomo's side as far as the rest of the cuts to Medicaid were concerned.
Although Cuomo's suggested cap on non-economic damages did not garner the support it needed to pass, the governor's willingness to push forward tort reform may be part of the reason Empire Dental Political Action Committee donated to his party. That said, whatever the motivation for EDPAC's contribution was, the group's existence is a good example of how anyone who has a stake in politics will spend money trying to get a seat at the table; even dentists have PACs now.
The effects of money on politics may be hard to measure, but it's clear that groups with money and a stake in government decisions have taken a keen interest in political contributions. Even groups with seemingly limited interests have donated large sums to various political committees and candidates. In recent years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship organization, a mix-martial arts promotion company, has been fighting to get its fights legalized in New York State. Since 2009, Zuffa, LLC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's parent company, has contributed over $300,000 to various candidates and committees in New York State. Ultimate Fighting Productions donated over $50,000 in the same time period.
Establishing a direct link between donations and political favors is difficult, but the frequency of contributions to competing parties, especially through shell companies, leaves little doubt that political contributions are an important strategy for businesses and special interest groups. This inevitably raises the question of whether private interests are being put ahead of the public interest and whether campaign finance disclosure laws are doing enough to make the flow of money in politics transparent.
After the marijuana-policy-reform movement's huge victories in Colorado and Washington on November 6, many people are asking, "What states will be next to enact measures to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol?" (We refer to these as "T&R" bills or initiatives.)
It is important to note that this pair of 55 percent victories would have been less resounding had they appeared on the ballot during a midterm election. Presidential elections traditionally attract far more voters, many of whom are younger and more supportive of T&R than older voters. And when there are more voters, there tends to be more support shown for ending marijuana prohibition.
With that in mind, here is what the Marijuana Policy Project will be pursuing from 2013 to 2016.
1. Alaska: Unfortunately, Alaska law currently only allows voter initiatives to be placed on the primary election ballot, so we will attempt to pass a T&R initiative in August 2014. Fortunately, Alaska voters have traditionally been more supportive of T&R than voters in any other state. Only 100,000 Alaskans are expected to vote in August 2014, so the universe of voters we need to persuade is quite small.
2. Rhode Island: MPP separately legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana possession in Rhode Island in 2009 and 2012, respectively. We're now lobbying the state legislature to pass a T&R bill, which could very well happen in 2014 or 2015. Regardless of which year this happens, Rhode Island will almost certainly be the first state to pass a T&R measure through the state legislature.
3. Maine: I just returned to D.C. from Maine, where I met with leading activists, political consultants, and state Rep. Diane Russell (D), who's the lead sponsor of the T&R bill in Augusta. If we fail to pass her bill during the 2013, 2014, or 2015 legislative sessions, we'll place a T&R initiative on the November 2016 ballot. As a way of demonstrating public support before 2016, we intend to pass local ballot initiatives in Portland and two or three other cities in November 2014.
4. Oregon: Oregon is similar to Maine, in that we're working with leading activists to pass a T&R bill through the state legislature during the 2013 or 2015 legislative sessions. If the measure falls short, we will place a T&R initiative on the November 2016 ballot. MPP already hired a consultant in Portland to coordinate this four-year plan.
5. California: There is already a consensus that our movement should work over the next four years toward the goal of passing a T&R initiative in California in November 2016. The ACLU is coordinating the public-education effort over the next three years, and then MPP and the Drug Policy Alliance will probably end up leading the ballot-initiative campaign.
6. Massachusetts: The voters of Massachusetts passed MPP's decriminalization initiative in November 2008 with 65 percent of the vote, and then they followed up by legalizing medical marijuana on November 6 with 63 percent of the vote. Many Massachusetts citizens and legislators assume that marijuana will eventually be legalized in Massachusetts; it's just a question of when. The answer is "November 2016."
7. Nevada: MPP failed to pass a pair of ballot initiatives in Nevada in November 2002 and November 2006 with 39 percent and 44 percent of the vote, respectively. Support nationwide has been increasing by about 1.5 percent per year, so we could probably pass a T&R initiative tomorrow if we were permitted to place it on the ballot today. Because that's not possible, we're planning to pass an initiative in November 2016.
The themes here are pretty clear.
First, the next states to end marijuana prohibition will be in New England and the West. Second, everything is trending in our direction, and most people now agree that marijuana will eventually be legalized nationwide.
Third, the biggest day in the history of the marijuana-policy-reform movement will be November 8, 2016. After that day, just 46 months from now, it will be almost inevitable that Congress will change federal law to allow states to determine their own marijuana policies without federal interference. When that happens, we win.
President Barack Obama is urging the Illinois General Assembly to legalize gay marriage in his home state as lawmakers are poised to take up the measure as early as this week in Springfield.
PORTLAND, Maine -- Arriving in a limo, Donna Galluzzo and Lisa Gorney had all the trappings of a traditional wedding: Rings, flowers, wedding vows, an entourage and a friend to officiate.
With tears in their eyes, they were among the first gay couples to exchange wedding vows early Saturday morning after Maine's same-sex marriage law went into effect at midnight.
"We're paving the way for people to go after us. I think it's just amazing. It's freeing. It's what's right," an emotionally drained Gorney said after their ceremony in front of City Hall.
After waiting years and seeing marriage rights nearly awarded and then retracted, gay couples in Maine's largest city didn't have to wait a moment longer than necessary to wed, with licenses issued at the stroke of midnight as the law went into effect.
Steven Bridges and Michael Snell were the first in line, and they received cheers from more than 200 people waiting outside after they wed in the clerk's office.
"It's historic. We've waited our entire lives for this," said Bridges, a retail manager, who's been in a relationship with the Snell, a massage therapist, for nine years. Bridges, 42, and Snell, 53, wore lavender and purple carnations on black T-shirts with the words "Love is love."
Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved gay marriage in November, making them the first states to do so by popular vote. Gay marriage already was legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia, but those laws were either enacted by lawmakers or through court rulings.
In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage signed off on the certified election results on Nov. 29, so the new law was to go into effect 30 days from that date. The law already is in effect in Washington state; Maryland's takes effect on Tuesday, the first day of 2013.
Nobody knew exactly how many couples would be rushing to get their marriage licenses early Saturday in Maine. Falmouth joined Portland in opening at midnight. Other communities including Bangor, Brunswick and Augusta planned to hold special Saturday hours.
In Portland, the mood was festive with the crowd cheering and horns sounding at midnight as Bridges and Snell began filling out paperwork in the clerk's office in Portland City Hall. There were free carnation boutonnieres and cupcakes, and a jazz trio played.
Outside, the raucous group that gathered in front of the building cheered Bridges and Snell as if they were rock stars and broke into the Beatles' "All You Need is Love."
Fourteen couples received marriage licenses, and five of them married on the spot, a city spokeswoman said. Many of those who received their marriage license were middle-aged, and some said they never envisioned a day when gay couples could wed just like straight couples.
"I came out years ago and the only thing we wanted was to not get beaten up," said Steven Jones, 50, who married his partner, Jamous Lizotte, on his 35th birthday.
Not everyone was getting married right away.
Suzanne Blackburn and Joanie Kunian, of Portland, were among those in line to get their license at midnight, but they planned to have their marriage ceremony later. One of their grandchildren wanted them to get married on Valentine's Day.
"I don't think that we dared to dream too big until we had the governor's signature," Blackburn said. "That's why it's so important, because it feels real."
Bridges and Snell already considered themselves married because they'd held a commitment ceremony attended by friends and family six years ago. Nonetheless, they thought it was important to make it official under state law, as Snell's two daughters watched.
Katie and Carolyn Snell, the daughters, said the ceremony made formal what they knew all along to be true about the couple.
"It's just a piece of paper," said Katie Snell. "Their love has been there, their commitment has been there, all along. It's the last step to make it a true official marriage because everything else has been there from the start."
This was a tumultuous year for working people and their families. From the grassroots uprisings last winter to the low-wage workers' strikes at year's end, 2012 saw many people coming together for the first time and finding their voices. Below are the items that I would highlight as the best and worst developments of 2012 in the world of labor and progressive social movements.
Conservatives have repeatedly tried to pass anti-worker legislation under misleading names and false slogans in 2012. This approach hasn't always worked -- California's Prop 32, which would have unfairly restricted workers' political speech in the state, failed at the polls in November. Sadly, though, at the end of the year, Michigan's lame-duck legislature, dominated by a billionaire-funded GOP, passed a so-called "right to work" law. As has happened in other states, the new law will pit Michigan workers against each other by forcing those who pay union dues to represent and bargain for those who don't. The state has been a union bulwark historically, so this is a sad sign for working people all over the country.
Neoliberal trade policy has continued to undermine the American middle class in 2012. As reporters Donald Barlett and James Steele have documented, the so-called "free trade" deals modeled after NAFTA are part of a pattern that has resulted in huge job losses here in the United States. This year, the Obama administration has been promoting a new pact based on this same model that would create a "free trade zone" made up of ten countries along the Pacific Rim, called the TransPacific Partnership (TPP). As Matt Stoller has said in Salon, the creation of the TPP has mostly flown under the radar, but it could lead to "offshoring of U.S. manufacturing and service-sector jobs, inexpensive imported products, expanded global reach of U.S. multinationals, and less bargaining leverage for labor." None of this is good for Americans who desperately need jobs to be created here.
Another disturbing trend that continued this year was giveaways of public funds to private companies. As watchdog Good Jobs First documented earlier this year, state and local governments handed out $32 billion to private corporations in the name of job creation, but with no real accountability or guarantees of public benefit.
Not everything was bad news; there were also some positive developments that offer hope for the future. Four of these were:
Student activism allied with union advocacy paid off in San Jose, California, where a student-led coalition got a ballot initiative passed that will raise the minimum wage from $8 to $10 per hour for everyone working within the city limits. Organizers estimate the number of workers who will get a raise to be in the tens of thousands. I see this as a fine example of regional coalition-based organizing, and I hope it becomes a trend.
Labor helped push President Obama to victory: once again, organized labor showed that its electoral muscle is critical in propelling candidates to victory. This creates a window of opportunity for pursuing future gains for workers at the federal level.
Chicago teachers won their strike. The September walkout that lasted for seven school days may prove to be a bellwether for other places, where teachers can begin to reframe the issue of reform to include teachers' unions and more equitable distribution of resources as part of the solution for public education.
Walmart workers staged the first-ever strikes against the biggest private sector employer in the United States. United Food and Commercial Workers Organizing Director Pat O'Neill talked about how the union is experimenting with a new model of organizing -- workers and community members coming together to support better conditions in the stores and warehouses even before the workers join a union.
In 2013, as Obama starts his new term, we can find hope in these examples of regionally based innovation. Rather than waiting for change to come from above, we must take what is working at the regional level and turn it into a people's agenda for Washington.
Originally posted on The Century Foundation blog.
The hostage-taking-for-profit of the environment and the planet by corporate plutocrats is analogous to corporate CEO economic blackmail, the extortion of maximum monetary gain from a "Grand Bargain" fabricated in the name of deficit reduction that fails to address the underlying economic recession and jobs deficit.
By conceding a false deficit narrative that perpetuates upward redistribution of wealth and neglects job creation and the redress of ecological destruction, too many in Washington are complicit with plutocrats' economic and climate extortion. Republicans' complete fealty to monied plutocracy is met by Democratic leadership's willingness to bargain away benefits of Medicare and Social Security in order to pay for continued tax breaks for the elites. Instead of making the programs stronger by making them better, the president seems determined to capitulate to Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose most recent drama centers on the professed intent to "save Medicare and Social Security from insolvency" by cutting benefits, in order to prevent the U.S. from "becoming like Greece."
Who Needs a Habitable Planet?
Victor Menotti, executive director of the International Forum on Globalization (author of Faces Behind a Global Crisis: US Carbon Billionaires and the UN Climate Deadlock) traces some of the arms of the "Kochtopus" - so-called Koch-funded radical free-market lobby groups, think tanks and media relations firms - to unravel the source of Koch brothers Charles and David's exponentially-increasing fossil fuels wealth. Prime donors to political campaigns, lobbying efforts and climate denial science, the Kochs have been said to have spent more than Exxon to obstruct climate change legislation, including clean air laws and efforts to phase out fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy. Oil billionaires made rich by polluting the planet have made the U.S. the major obstacle to meaningful response to production of greenhouse gases, holding hostage action in Washington and, in turn, any meaningful global commitment at the recent United Nations Climate Conference in Doha, Qatar. Instead, the U.S. backed a "new paradigm" of voluntary pledges that critics say fall far short of holding global temperatures to a 2 degree Centrigrade increase and placing the world on course for a 4-6 degree Centigrade increase.
Lee Fang of the Center for American Progress notes, "The real strategy of the Koch brothers to dismantle state clean energy programs has been laid out for many years." Greenpeace reported in 2010 that the American Legislative Exchange Council received $408,000 in grants from Koch foundations over the span of a decade (1997 to 2008) to provide state legislators with "model legislation" undermining environmental action on air, water quality and climate change.
IFG's previous report, Outing the Oligarchy: Billionaires Who Benefit from Today's Climate Crisis, relates a multifaceted assault on democracy by a "new class of plutocrats" who exert influence through control of media, election financing, writing legislative policy, legalizing off-shore tax havens, and suppressing unions and worker salaries, while seeking to gain for themselves government subsidies, tax shelters, deregulation and weak regulation of banking and trade, etc., and privatization of every governmental service possible. These are "crony capitalists who have gotten rich by polluting the planet, and now they are plowing their cash back in to prevent any legal protections for the planet and its most vulnerable peoples," said Menotti, co-author of the report. Not only do they seek privatization of services like health insurance, military, Medicare and Social Security, they look to control valuable scarce resources of the commons, such as fresh water.
The Koch Brothers' exponentially increasing net wealth is reportedly amplified by their activities surrounding oil derivatives speculative trading by which companies are able to artificially inflate prices on oil and other commodities. As oil speculation has reached an all-time high, the Kochs and other oil companies see more profits and the price of gas skyrockets, even as the brothers lobby to eliminate oversight of insider trading of commodities by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Rigging the rules to cash in on a large scale, the Kochs are said to have committed one of the "the most stunning -- yet silent -- transfers of wealth ever." Their obstruction of market interventions intended to redress "converging economic and ecological crises" places the Koch multi-billionaires at the forefront of assaults on the right to clean air and fair wages, as well as the right to vote.
Two Budget Proposals Better Than Simpson-Bowles
Popular wisdom of Washington elites and their well-paid lobbyists holds that earned benefit insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security, invested in by workers, are the "true source of government's spending problems." The same D.C. elites utter not a sound about the rich paying their progressive fair share of taxes; job creation as major deficit reduction; application of a small fee on Wall St. speculative transactions; or elimination of hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to oil, pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Ultimately, Washington insiders' prime goal is further corporate tax cuts on the backs of the middle- and low-income, in part by cutting and privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
Promoted by Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and "Fix the Debt" CEOs as a "balanced" approach to deficit reduction, Simpson-Bowles is in fact a formula for continued wealth transfer upward, by cutting social and earned benefit insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security. Colorado Sen. Mark Udall is among legislators who has stated he is "a big advocate of using the Simpson-Bowles model as a starting point for a deficit-reduction plan." He and Sen. Bennett and 5 of 7 Colorado representatives (DeGette, Perlmutter, Coffman, Polis and Tipton) signed a letter addressed to House and Senate leaders calling for expeditious action "to institute a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan that cuts spending, responsibly reforms and strengthens entitlement programs and overhauls the tax code...There should be no higher priority for this Congress than crafting a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan..." No mention of the wealthy paying their fair share of taxes; only obtuse hints at overhauling the tax code and cutting Social Security and Medicare to "strengthen" the programs. Nevermind that Social Security is a separately-funded program that does not contribute to the deficit. Only the progressive caucus proposes improving the programs without cutting benefits, e.g., by permitting Medicare to negotiate bulk rates for medicines, as the VA does.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who served on the Simpson-Bowles Commission, wrote The Sham of Simpson-Bowles . A gift to the weatlhy elite, Simpson-Bowles would lower individual tax rates and reward moving jobs offshore by permanently eliminating corporate taxes on foreign profits. Simultaneously, the plan proposes shifting greater costs to working people by taxing employee health benefits; increasing Medicare/Medicaid out-of-pocket costs by over $100 billion; and ultimately requiring deep cuts to domestic programs like housing, nutrition, job training, etc.
Though contributing nothing to the deficit, Shakowsky notes that Simpson-Bowles seeks to increase Social Security age of eligibility (asserting that people are living longer, though many with lower income are actually not) and to reduce the annual cost-of-living adjustment using a "chained" consumer price index (CPI) to measure inflation - a proposal recently offered by President Obama as compromise with Republicans. Writes Schakowsky, "For future retirees, all these changes taken together would reduce the average annual benefit for middle-income workers - those with annual earnings of $43,000 to $69,000 - by up to 35 percent."
The common good continues to be subordinated to the corporate bottom line in Washington. Bailed-out CEOs are amply rewarded with big bonuses while workers' pensions remain fair game. Both Republicans and Democrats targeted military and federal employee pension programs for cuts in July 2011 budget talks -- a reported $36 billion in cuts to federal employee pensions, and $11 billion from military retirement programs over 10 years. The White House offered a similar proposal to cut as much as $40 billion from pensions at the time.
Two alternative budget proposals determinedly ignored by Washington and corporate media would more fairly and efficiently address the deficit than Simpson-Bowles -- The People's Budget by the Congressional Progressive Caucus's and Rep. Jan Schakowsky's Fairness in Taxation Act. Shakowsky's proposal creates higher tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires, while eliminating subsidies for Big Oil, as well as tax loopholes for corporations that send jobs overseas.
Noting that the worst deficit we face is the jobs deficit, in 2011 Schakowsky introduced a Jobs Bill to create 2.2 million jobs to restore infrastructure and meet community needs, all fully paid for by her Fairness in Taxation Act.
Corporate media's embrace of a "Grand Bargain" is evident in their constant seeking out of corporate CEOs like David Cote of Honeywell and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein as deficit "experts." Blankfein voiced his primary concern to CBS news for the effect of the "fiscal cliff" on the stock market, lacking speedy resolution.
The "Grand Bargain" is in reality a "Great Betrayal" of the lower/middle income, observes economist William Black. Washington dialogue has been almost exclusively reduced to forms of extortion of the working class by the monied class, at the expense of the planet and democracy.
Failure of Republicans and Democrats to address the corrupting influence of money in politics signals an urgent need to grow grassroots environmental and democratic efforts, including the Justice and Green Parties.
The 2012 election cycle saw the greatest rollback on voting rights since the post-Reconstruction era. Largely driven by a spate of new laws and policies, including new restrictions on the type of ID that voters can use and flawed voter purges, conservative legislatures stopped at nothing to make it harder to register to vote, harder to cast a ballot, and harder to have a vote counted.
But there was another story this year, a story of voter protection and democracy advocates who fought back -- and won.
10. Missouri tries to sell voter suppression as "voter protection."
Hoping to get a piece of the photo ID pie, Missouri legislators introduced a photo ID ballot initiative under the misleading name "Voter Protection Act." Advancement Project and co-counsel challenged the measure in 2011, arguing that there is nothing "protective" about placing unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote -- restrictions that could disenfranchise up to 250,000 Missouri voters.
This year a judge agreed that the initiative's deceptive language failed to inform citizens of what, exactly, they'd be voting on. It was removed from the 2012 ballot.
9. Ohio meddles with its wildly successful early voting period.
Ohio lawmakers got to planning back in 2010 when, for no legitimate reason, they eliminated the last three days of early voting (except for active-duty military or voting overseas). It's no coincidence that African-American voters are more likely to cast early ballots, and in 2008, when Obama won the state, nearly 100,000 Ohioans voted during those last three days of early voting.
This year the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit to restore the early voting period for all Ohio voters. Despite attempts from the right to mischaracterize the suit as trying to revoke voting rights from military members, a judge agreed with the Obama campaign that a two-tiered voting system is unconstitutional - -and the last three days of early voting were reinstated for everybody.
8. Wisconsin and Ohio get ominous billboards in communities of color.
During the final weeks before Election Day, we saw a wave of intimidation tactics. In Wisconsin and Ohio, billboards popped up in primarily African-American neighborhoods, depicting a gavel and ominously threatening, "Voter Fraud is a Felony! Up to 3 1/2 yrs and a $10,000 Fine" -- clearly designed to intimidate and confuse people of color away from voting.
After a national outcry, letters and petitions, the billboards (the work of the Einhorn Family Foundation, a conservative Milwaukee nonprofit) were removed from both states. To let voters know that we had their back, a coalition of groups, including Advancement Project, placed our own billboards in the same neighborhoods with the empowering messages: "When We Vote, We Are All Equal" and "Stand Up and Have Your Say. VOTE!"
7. Ohio to voters: If election officials make a mistake, too bad.
Previously under Ohio law, election officials threw out all provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, even if a voter was following a poll worker's instructions- - and even if the voter was in the right polling place but in the wrong line! This affected thousands of black voters, whose communities are more likely to have several precincts grouped together in a single polling place. These voters were going to the right location, but poll workers sometimes directed them to the wrong table or provided the wrong ballot.
Reasoning that voters shouldn't be disenfranchised for a poll worker's error, Advancement Project took Ohio to court. A judge had the common sense to order that those ballots be counted.
6. Florida targets "Souls to the Polls."
The Florida legislature reduced the state's early voting window from two weeks to eight days. The move expressly took out the Sunday before Election Day, the date when black churches organized successful statewide "Souls to the Polls" campaigns encouraging their congregants to vote. Coincidence?
Not according to former Florida Republican Party Chair Jim Greer, who admitted the party held meetings about strategies (including reductions in early voting) for "keeping blacks from voting." Former Governor Charlie Crist also said that during his term, GOP leaders approached him about changing early voting in an effort to weaken Democratic turnout. But the plan backfired, as Florida's Black voter turnout exceeded 2008's historic levels.
5. Florida takes on the Boy Scouts and League of Women Voters.
Not content with just making it harder to vote, Florida legislators also made it harder to register to vote. A 2011 law placed onerous requirements and penalties on voter registration drives. All completed registration forms, for example, had to be submitted to election officials within 48 hours or face a fine of $1,000 per application. The law had its intended effect: many groups, including the Boy Scouts and the League of Women Voters, shut down their voter registration operations in Florida as a result.
Although damage was done during the 12 months that the law stood (registration dropped by a staggering 14 percent), in 2012 a federal court struck it down for disproportionately affecting voters of color, who are more likely to register from voter registration drives. Despite this setback, in the end, Black and Latino voters still came out in record-breaking numbers.
4. Ohio: No convenient voting hours for anybody!
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted decided to further chip away at voting in the state by denying expanded early voting hours in only Democratic-leaning urban counties -- just as hours were expanded in solidly Republican rural and suburban ones.
After public outcry over the flagrant disparity, Secretary Husted ordered that all Ohio counties must vote by the same standard. But rather than extending voting days and hours in urban districts, he eliminated weekend voting and slashed hours in all districts across the state. Although voting got less convenient under the new rules, Black voters in Ohio came out in historic numbers, making up 15 percent of the state's electorate.
3. Pennsylvania's voter ID plan (or lack thereof) falls apart.
Less than eight months before Election Day, Pennsylvania passed one of the nation's strictest photo ID laws -- despite the state's admission that there had never been a single instance of voter impersonation in the state, even though more than 750,000 registered voters in the state lacked the required forms of identification, and the state had no plan for issuing enough ID cards in time. If there were any doubts of the partisan motive, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai put them to rest after boasting that the law would "allow Governor Romney to win."
After a lawsuit brought by Advancement Project and partners, a court concurred that Pennsylvania officials were in over their heads, and that the law would disenfranchise voters. It was blocked for the 2012 elections.
2. Florida plots an embarrassingly flawed, error-ridden voter purge.
Apparently unsatisfied by the extent of their other suppression efforts, this year Florida threatened to purge thousands of registered voters from the voter rolls based on suspicion of their citizenship status. Using flawed data, the state sent letters to more than 2,600 registered voters (mostly of color -- many of whom were citizens) saying they'd be kicked off the rolls unless they provided proof of citizenship within 30 days. In Miami, where most of the targeted voters live, more than 98 percent of 562 people who responded proved that they were in fact eligible citizens.
When a coalition of groups, including Advancement Project, sued, the state backed down. Officials agreed to restore to the rolls anyone who was removed without proof of their being a non-citizen, and to inform those voters that they were indeed registered.
1. Texas gets rejected - -twice -- over blatantly discriminatory voting changes.
The Lone Star State geared up for a number of voting changes beginning in 2011, designed to make voting harder in 2012. First, state lawmakers passed a strict photo ID law that made only five documents acceptable for voting: a state-issued driver's license or identification card, a military photo ID, a passport, a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo, or a concealed-carry handgun license. They followed up with a redistricting plan that changed districts belonging to incumbents of color, while making no such alterations to districts represented by White incumbents. Fortunately, these plans never saw the light of day.
After concluding this year that both policies would reduce the voting power of people of color and the poor, a federal court struck them down. The state's redistricting map was so blatant, in fact, the court said lawmakers had intentionally discriminated against Latino voters.
SACRAMENTO — As California positions itself at the vanguard of the national healthcare overhaul, state officials are unable to say for sure how much their implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act will cost taxpayers.The program, intended to insure millions of Americans who are now without health coverage, takes states into uncharted territory. California, which plans to expand coverage to hundreds of thousands of people when the law takes effect in 2014, faces myriad unknowns. The Brown administration will try to estimate the cost of vastly more health coverage in the...
This Friday, President Obama delivered a statement on the fiscal cliff, urging policymakers to compromise, admitting idealistic optimism that Congress can come to an agreement within the next ten days. Then he wished "every American a Merry Christmas." The Christians, the Jews, the Muslims, the Atheists, the Buddhists, the Nudists. Every. Single. American.
As an aggressive antitheist, my knee-jerk reaction was to be outraged. "How dare he! That's basically state imposition of religion!"
But actually, it's quite the opposite.
Christmas has, without a doubt, morphed into more of a cultural holiday than a religious one. Offices around the country close their doors and families gather to imbibe eggnog, unwrap gifts, laugh, hurl insults, eat too much chocolate, and fall asleep cuddling with the dog by the crackling fire. It's magical.
I have been affirmatively opposed to organized religion since about the age of 14. Since reading Christopher Hitchens' magnum opus, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, my freshman year of college, I've become an aggressive "agnostic teetering on the brink of Atheism," to quote Martin Amis.
But alas, I love Christmas. As you can imagine, this is often a point of contention in debates, which usually go something like this:
"So, you hate religion and think it's evil, but you love and celebrate Christmas? Christmas wouldn't be here if it weren't for Christ, so how can you say 'religion poisons everything'?"
Now, I could devolve into the argument about the pagan origins of Christmas, but I'll leave that to the Hitch. Mostly, the reason I can love Christmas without entirely debasing my argument is because Christmas has become more cultural than it is religious. There's nothing remotely religious about eggnog, "chestnuts roasting on an open fire," or a sparkling evergreen. There's certainly no Christ in my Christmas. Lots of family though!
Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, you passively partake in the festivities by merely walking down the street. Municipalities from Los Angeles to New York City invest funds in eccentric Christmas displays. Townspeople gather around the lighting of the big tree in the square. Main Street is adorned with twinkling lights and Christmas carols hum from every corner of the shopping mall.
In college, I lived with three of my best friends -- all Jewish. We always had a miniature Christmas tree and, let me assure you, I deserved no credit for its proud placement on our dining room table.
One of the three friends is the granddaughter of a man and woman who were sent to Riga and Auschwitz concentration camps during World War II. Her family keeps kosher. She fed us latkes during Hanukkah. And the moment the calendar flipped to December, Christmas carols could be heard blasting from her room for the next few weeks.
Look, if you want to "keep Christ in Christmas," by all means, set up your Nativity scene and go to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It's a free country. I, along with the increasing number of non-Christians, on the other hand, will be by the fire, glass of wine in-hand, listening to some Nat King Cole, snug as a bug in my new Christmas pajamas.
13 of the best "All I Want for Christmas" covers:
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A federal judge on Monday denied a request by Planned Parenthood to temporarily block Oklahoma from terminating a contract with the agency to provide nutritional services to low-income mothers.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot ruled that although the state's stated reasons don't seem to be sufficient cause for ending agreements with Planned Parenthood's three Tulsa-area clinics that have been in place for 18 years, the group's response to the state's concerns was insufficient enough to warrant ending the relationship.
The decision will likely mean that the group will have to close one of the clinics and eliminate six full-time staff positions when the contracts end on Dec. 31, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's President and CEO Jill June said in a statement.
"We are truly disappointed with today's court ruling and the impact it will have on the women and children in the Tulsa area who have relied on Planned Parenthood for (the federal Women, Infants and Children program) and the many other services we provide," June said. "While we are convinced of our claim, we will weigh all our possible options going forward."
The Oklahoma State Department of Health notified Planned Parenthood in September that it planned to end agreements it had with three Planned Parenthood for the last 18 years, citing the uncertainty of federal funds, declining caseloads and a higher cost-per-participant rate at clinics in west Tulsa, midtown Tulsa and Broken Arrow.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, which represents the health department, said in a statement that she was pleased with the judge's decision.
"Judge Friot looked at the facts of the case and understood that the decision by the health department was based on legitimate business reasons," said spokeswoman Diane Clay.
But Planned Parenthood contends that the actual reason the state, whose leadership is among the most conservative in the country, decided not to renew the contracts was because the organization offers abortion services at some of its U.S. clinics, although it doesn't at the three Tulsa-area clinics.
Terry Cline, the state's health commissioner, testified during a hearing about Planned Parenthood's motion last week that the group's abortion-related activities should "absolutely not" factor into the state's decisions on whether to renew or end the contracts. Cline and other Health Department administrators have said the contracts weren't renewed because of a variety of long-term managerial and administrative problems, including a decline in caseloads, increasing client costs and a failure to resolve budgetary questions.
This year, the clinics received a total of $454,000 to provide WIC services and averaged about 3,000 client visits per month, or about 18 percent of all WIC client visits in Tulsa County, according to state Health Department data.
In his ruling, Friot wrote that while Planned Parenthood's performance deficiencies, primarily its declining caseloads, do not appear to be enough to result in the termination of its contracts, he added: "But a routine, solvable problem can become a justifiable basis for strong action when it is compounded by persistent unresponsiveness in addressing the challenge. Moreover, the frustrations in getting information out of (Planned Parenthood) on what should have been routine administrative matters rubbed additional salt into the wound."
Other conservative-led states have also taken steps to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.
Indiana passed the first law meant to deny Planned Parenthood federal funding for general health services, but a federal appeals court in October upheld a lower court's finding that Indiana violated federal regulations when it enacted the law. A judge in Arizona blocked that state from applying a similar law to Planned Parenthood.
In Texas, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law last year that sought to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics that provide family planning and health services to poor women as part of the Texas Women's Health Program.
In response to Texas' decision to ban any clinic affiliated with abortion providers from taking part in its Women's Health Program, federal authorities announced they would cut off funding that accounts for 90 percent of the program's family-planning costs and half of its administrative costs. Texas tried to block the funding cut, but a federal judge last week sided with federal authorities, who say the state's exclusion of Planned Parenthood violates U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines.
ATLANTA -- A state judge has suspended a Georgia law banning abortions for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant.
The law bans doctors from performing abortions five months after an egg is fertilized, except when doctors decide a fetus has a defect so severe it is unlikely to live. The law also makes an exception to protect the life or health of the mother, though that does not apply to a mother's mental health.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit on behalf of three obstetricians challenging the law's constitutionality. The organization says the law violates the state's privacy protections as provided for in the state constitution.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs suspended the law Friday and it was set to take effect Jan. 1.
Scene: The teller's window of a local bank in Tombstone, Arizona. A well-dressed man walks up to the window, where the teller is counting cash, puts a gun to his forehead, and speaks:
I am a bank robber, and this is a holdup. Hand over your cash.
(The Teller takes out his gun and puts it to the robber's forehead) Well, I am a police officer, and this is an arrest. Hand over your weapon.
You're a cop? What are you doing behind a bank window in Tombstone pretending to be a teller?
The kids are on vacation. Usually, I"m in the school corridors, pretending to be a teacher. Your weapon, please.
You have no constitutional right to expropriate a privately-owned hand gun.
I do if you bring it into a bank.
I am one of the 4.3 million dues-paying, card-carrying members of the National Rifle Association, which says that citizens have the right to carry weapons into all public areas.
I thought the NRA was ONLY interested in sporting arms.
So what are you hunting in the Tombstone National Bank? Goldfish?
I did hear that deer were plentiful in this area.
And that's why you're carrying a magazine-loaded semi-automatic pistol -- to hunt for game?
No, to defend myself against perpetrators.
And how would you define a perpetrator?
Anyone who aims a gun at me. Our Chairman, Wayne LaPierre, says that the only way to prevent armed violence is for the good guys to shoot the bad guys.
Yeah, but if both have guns in their hands, how can you tell the difference? Why don't you lower your weapon, and I'll put down mine and then we can discuss this issue like rational gun owners.
(Carefully, they lay their weapons down on the counter)
I am glad you are beginning to show some respect for my sacred Second Amendment rights.
The Constitution doesn't give you a sacred right to rob banks.
Maybe not, but it guarantees me the sacred right of self-protection.
Where does it guarantee you that?
(Reciting by rote) "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
You've completely misunderstood that clause.
(Startled) What do you mean?
It's a misprint. At this very moment the Supreme Court is considering a case arguing that the Second Amendment has nothing to do with weaponry.
(Incredulous) "The right to bear arms?"
There's the misprint. The Second Amendment doesn't guarantee a right to "bear" arms, allowing men to carry weapons, but rather a right to "bare" arms," allowing women to walk abroad freely in short sleeve jerseys.
You're saying it's not about shooters... ?
It's about hooters.
You're kidding me. What does a well-regulated militia have to do with exposing female flesh?
How else can a militia be well-regulated?
Well, until the Supreme Court decides on this case, it is still legal for me to carry my gun in self-defense.
Not if it results in the death of innocent civilians from people with psychiatric disorders.
You think I'm a psycho?
How would I know?
Then you should arrest my mother. She was the one that let me play video games as a kid.
Video games don't kill people. Guns kill people.
No, people kill guns. Read Wayne LaPierre.
What are you talking about?
Our Chairman, Wayne LaPierre, says that you Liberal pussies are trying to abolish guns in this country.
Yes, because guns kill people.
No, people kill people. The state of Arizona, which has twenty percent more automatic weapons per capita than anywhere else in the world, has 6.3 percent fewer murders.
Actually, it has 6.3 percent more murders.
Where did you get that?
Look, we can't stand here arguing this with pistols pointed at each others' brains. Why don't we holster our weapons, and discuss this issue over a beer?
Okay with me, so long as you don't try to arrest me. Otherwise, I'll be obliged to exercise my Constitutional rights and shoot you.
Well, you haven't committed a crime yet, only attempted one, and I'm the only witness. So let's go to our local bar and look for some bare arms.
Great. What's this place called?
The O.K. Corral.
Frank Schubert, the National Political Director for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), is the mastermind who ran the campaign that persuaded voters to vote in favor of Proposition 8 in California in 2008, thereby outlawing gay marriage in the state.
As HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile noted in a recent interview with Schubert, he moved on from California to other states and helped in the campaign that got three judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality removed from the Iowa Supreme Court in retention elections in 2010. And according to the New York Times, he was also on retainer for up to $20,000 a month from each of the anti-marriage equality campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota this past fall (though all four campaigns failed and gay marriage passed in the first three states and an anti-marriage equality amendment was thwarted in Minnesota).
Now Schubert is back in the news with a blog post on the NOM website responding to Newt Gingrich's recent -- and surprising -- statements to the Huffington Post in which he said he now supports marriage equality (to a point):
While he continued to profess a belief that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman, he suggested that the party (and he himself) could accept a distinction between a "marriage in a church from a legal document issued by the state" -- the latter being acceptable.
Schubert writes on the NOM blog:
Newt Gingrich has provided valuable public service to America. As a candidate he signed NOM’s pledge to take action as president to preserve marriage.
But sometimes good men say stupid things, and this is one of those times.
Gingrich’s conclusion that gay “marriage” is inevitable is ridiculous. His comments suggest the results of marriage races in Maine, Maryland and Washington, which allowed three deep-blue states to endorse redefining marriage means that it is inevitable.
Schubert also claims that though NOM is disappointed with the results of the election, they believe that "by an overwhelming 60% margin (according to a national survey conducted by Gingrich’s own pollster, Kellyanne Conway), the American people continue to believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman."
While recent surveys have differed in their exact findings regarding America's opinion on marriage equality, it's clear there is more and more support for the movement to legalize same-sex marriage. An ABC News-Washington Post poll in November found that 51 percent of Americans support marriage equality and in December a poll released by POLITICO and George Washington University found that 63 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds backed same-sex marriage.
With U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for the position of secretary of state, some have assumed that Congress will now be less insistent on a full accounting of the facts surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the murder of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.This is wrong, for one simple reason: The president of the United States is ultimately responsible for the safety of Americans serving our nation overseas. Regardless of whom the president nominates for national security positions in his...
The requisites for a U.S. secretary of state, along with intelligence and judgment, are a knowledge of foreign policy, an understanding of domestic politics, and, ideally, first-hand experience of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “brutality and stupidity” of war.Senator John Kerry, who was tapped by President Barack Obama to succeed Hillary Clinton, checks off all those boxes. He has been an engaged diplomat, a successful politician with gravitas and a decorated combat veteran.
New gun legislation, in part propelled by the Dec. 14 mass shooting that claimed 26 lives in a Connecticut elementary school, will come before the Virginia General Assembly in the session that convenes Jan. 9.
As in other states and at the federal level, much of the debate will focus on banning so-called assault weapons, closing background-check loopholes and limiting the availability of high-capacity magazines.
Meanwhile, some pro-gun politicians have called for arming school employees, and the National Rifle Association issued a statement Friday that urged armed guards in all schools.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a state group that bills itself as a more aggressive defender of the Second Amendment than the NRA, has vowed to fight new gun-control efforts in Virginia.
Gun laws vary vastly by state, a patchwork system of regulation, terminology and definitions that critics say fuels the supply of weapons to criminals and limits the efficacy of measures taken in states with strong gun-control laws.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation's most ardent gun-control groups, ranks states' gun laws on a point system that assigns high scores to states with stringent gun laws and low scores to those with few restrictions.
Last year, while Virginia scored in the top half, ranking 19th with a score of 12 points out of a possible 100, it was deemed by the campaign to have "weak gun laws that help feed the illegal gun market, allow the sale of guns without background checks and put children at risk," according to the Brady Campaign score card. Only 11 states scored more than 25 points on the Brady scale, and 31 states scored lower than Virginia, though the point difference was slight.
By comparison, Connecticut ranked fifth on the Brady list.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national legal nonprofit that compiles information on gun laws and advocates for "smart gun laws," gave Virginia's regulations a "D."
"We've don't have strong gun laws," said Andrew Goddard, president of the Virginia Center for Public Safety. His son Colin was shot four times during the Virginia Tech killings in 2007 and now works for the Brady Campaign.
For Goddard, some of the recent political stirrings are encouraging. He added that most Americans, for example, including the majority of gun owners and NRA members, support measures requiring criminal background checks for all gun purchases.
"We're not trying to sell these ideas to the American people," Goddard said. "The American people are already there."
Stronger regulations at the federal level would provide a better baseline standard, he added, though the gun lobby's influence has made that historically difficult.
"The misguided lawmakers think that if they go against the NRA's wishes, they'll be out of office," Goddard said. He added that the best possibilities for meaningful gun regulation could be at the state level, where the NRA has also been successful nationwide in broadening access to concealed-carry permits and promoted "stand your ground" laws.
Here's how Virginia's laws compare with Connecticut's, according to information compiled from the Brady Campaign, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Virginia and Connecticut state police agencies, and state statutes:
Virginia: No permit is required to buy a rifle, pistol or shotgun, though you must be 18 to buy a rifle or shotgun and 21 to buy a handgun pursuant to federal law. Licensed firearm dealers are required to submit information for background checks prior to selling a gun. However, private sellers, including at gun shows, are not required to submit information for a background check. This is what critics call the "gun-show loophole."
Connecticut: Background checks are required for all transfers of handguns between individuals other than licensed firearm dealers and for all firearm transfers at gun shows. Private transfers of "long guns" such as rifles and shotguns outside of gun shows do not require a check. To buy a handgun, purchasers must be 21 and must first obtain either a state concealed-carry permit, which requires local police or elected official approval and a training course, among other stipulations, or a "handgun-eligibility certificate," which carries a host of restrictions.
Virginia: Carrying rifles or pistols with magazines that hold more than 20 rounds, or a shotgun that holds more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered, is prohibited in public places only in the cities of Alexandria, Chesapeake, Fairfax, Falls Church, Newport News, Norfolk, Richmond and Virginia Beach and in the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Henrico, Loudoun and Prince William. Those provisions do not apply to police, licensed security guards and military, or anyone who holds a valid concealed-handgun permit as well as hunters or recreational shooters at a range.
Connecticut: Has no law regulating large-capacity magazines.
Virginia: State law defines an assault weapon as "any semi-automatic, center-fire rifle or pistol" equipped with a magazine that holds more than 20 rounds or is "designed by the manufacturer to accommodate a silencer or equipped with a folding stock."
The only restrictions on such weapons, apart from the high-capacity magazine law, apply to non-U.S. citizens or those who are not "lawfully admitted for permanent residence." Those individuals are barred from possessing, carrying or transporting any assault firearm.
Connecticut: The state defines an assault weapon as "any selective-fire firearm capable of fully automatic, semi-automatic or burst fire at the option of the user or any of the following specified semi-automatic firearms," and names nearly three dozen specific models. Other characteristics of weapons that designate them as assault weapons are folding or telescoping stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mounts, flash suppressors and a grenade launcher, among others. Individuals are prohibited from possessing such weapons unless it was purchased prior to July 1, 1994, and the owner was eligible to buy it at that time, "lawfully possessed it" prior to Oct. 1, 1993, and is not in violation of other state firearm laws.
A semi-automatic Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle, which is descended from the military-issued M-16 but has some significant differences, is believed to have been used in the Connecticut school killings. It was not covered under the ban. News reports have indicated the shooter, Adam Lanza, used 30-round magazines for the weapon.
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