An indigenous woman is facing federal charges for protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline

DAPL Protest

(Credit: William Alatriste/ NYC City Council​)

AlterNet

In an escalation of the criminalization of protesters, an indigenous woman is facing several federal charges for her involvement in the Standing Rock protests last fall. Red Fawn Fallis, 38, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, has been indicted on three federal charges, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharge of a firearm and federal civil disorder — a charge that is rarely pursued.

Bruce Ellison, the lead attorney for Fallis, told Mint Press News he has only handled federal civil disorder charges a few times before, such as when activists from the American Indian movement were facing federal prosecution in the 1970s. Ellison previously represented Leonard Peltier, another well-known indigenous activist from the American Indian movement.

Sandra Freeman, an attorney at the Water Protector Legal Collective, also told Mint Press News that federal civil disorder charges are rare.

“Nobody I’ve worked with previously has ever seen that charge,” she said. “It comes from a law that is usually only invoked with the federal government decides to prosecute people involved in resistance.”

The federal charges against Fallis stem from a massive raid on the Front Line Camp north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation on Oct. 27, 2016 that resulted in a clash between peaceful indigenous activists and heavily armed police. During the raid, officers fired tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and bean bag pellets against the unarmed water protectors, causing a multitude of injuries. Human rights groups like the United Nations have since condemned these violent police actions against water protectors and said that they are “contrary to the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

As law enforcement officers continued attacking water protectors and activists, four officers arrested Fallis and tackled her to the ground. Two gunshots went off beside her as she struggled. Local authorities contend that Fallis possessed a gun at the time and fired three gunshots at police during the raid. A statement from the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department says Fallis was arrested for “being an instigator” and “acting disorderly.” Upon her arrest, Fallis was initially charged with attempted murder. That charge has since been dropped by a state judge.

Fallis was not the only indigenous activist arrested for her participation in the Standing Rock protests last year. Authorities have arrested hundreds of people since the protests against the pipeline began, and about 141 people alone were arrested at the October 27 raid. Since these mass arrests, about 100 were indicted under felony charges by state prosecutors. Several reports have also surfaced about the crowded conditions of jail cells housing the activists.

The charges Fallis faces could set a dangerous precedent on the criminalization of protests, as law enforcement may feel emboldened to arrest more protesters. Reports from The Intercept reveal a coordinated effort between private security firm TigerSwan, law enforcement and agents from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Secruity, the Department of Justice, the Marshals Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to mitigate Standing Rock protests through surveillance and counterterrorism measures. Since November, more than 30 anti-protest bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, according to the ACLU, reflecting even more efforts to stifle social movements by directly targeting protesters. Several protesters who demonstrated against President Trump’s inauguration are also facing hefty charges in court.

Fallis is currently awaiting her next court date on July 17 in Bismarck, North Dakota, and her family and supporters have started an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to pay for the legal fees. The campaign is trying to raise $500,000 for further legal fees, and has collected about $15,000 so far.

Many Native American activists have disputed the charges against Fallis, arguing that she was not holding a gun and that she is innocent. According to reports from The Guardian, Fallis was a respected figure in the Sacred Stone Camp and a passionate activist in the fight against construction of the pipeline. Friends and supporters said Fallis would often provide medical attention to protectors during encounters with police.

“Anyone at the camp that needs help, she’s always been the one to stand up,” Mia Stevens, 22, a member of the International Indigenous Youth Council and longtime friend of Fallis, told The Guardian. “She wouldn’t do nothing like that. Where is the proof?”

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“Nobody Speak” director Brian Knappenberger: “Imagine very wealthy people applying Thiel’s tactics to other news sources you love”

Peter Thiel; Hulk Hogan

Peter Thiel; Hulk Hogan (Credit: AP/Ben Margot/Chris O’Meara)

Talk about walking into a house on fire. When director Brian Knappenberger set out to document the legal battle between Terry Gene Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan) and the snarky Gawker media website, which he was suing for posting a surreptitiously filmed sex tape in which he appeared, little did he know that the case was an early indicator of a vast sea change in the American political landscape. Was it just a coincidence that a jury of Floridian citizens rallied around a bloated, orange so-called man of the people when it decided to severely punish the slick big-city media types with a $140 million penalty?

I definitely think there are big parallels between what was happening in that courtroom in Florida and the bizarre election cycle we just endured,” Knappenberger says.

“Nobody Speak,” which comes out June 23 in theaters and on Netflix, focuses on an imperiled freedom of the press when the media is under siege and threatened because billionaires can finance legal campaigns, as venture capitalist Peter Thiel did with Bollea.

Salon caught up with Knappenberger and asked him to exercise his freedom to speak about a film that should send shudders through everyone who believes in the foundation that underlies the old red, white and blue.

How did you come to making “Nobody Speak”?

To me the Hogan-Gawker trial by itself had a really compelling tension between privacy and the first amendment. But the $140 million verdict, combined with the revelation that Peter Thiel was secretly funding the case, made it something very different. It became about how big money can be leveraged to silence journalism it doesn’t like. That is when I realized I needed to dig deeper, especially during a bizarre election cycle in which hatred of “the media” played a central role. 

What’s been the primary response from festival audiences?

The response from festival audiences has been incredible. Audiences have packed in to see this film and almost without exception have risen to their feet with standing ovations when the credits roll. It is amazing. But passions are also high at the post-screening discussions — in particular Gawker, Peter Thiel and, of course, Trump spark some raw emotions. People across the country are upset and, if nothing else, this film walks right into that fire. 

Has there been a primary criticism?

There are usually a handful of people who see this film and still say that Gawker’s actions justify the death sentence they received. Hatred of the press, all press, runs high. But consider the flood of so-called fake news we’ve seen over the last year, which has included false stories that lead a man to shoot up a pizza parlor, or a figure like Alex Jones who has repeatedly insisted that the Sandy Hook shootings were a “false flag” operation. In that context Gawker is hardly the “singularly sociopathic bully” Peter Thiel made them out to be. As the saying goes, if you don’t believe in free speech for speech you don’t like, you don’t believe in it at all. 

Explain your process of responding to changes while you were making the film. Are twists a gift, a challenge . . . both for a documentary filmmaker?

The big turn in this film was the most dramatic I’ve experienced as a filmmaker; the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States. Trump was always in the film since there seemed to be a direct connection between the anti-press sentiment of the Hogan-Gawker trial and Trump’s “open up libel laws” rhetoric during the campaign. And that was even before Thiel spoke at the RNC, gave money to Trump’s bid and became part of his transition team.

But as a filmmaker there was a big difference between thinking of Trump as a cautionary tale and having him actually become president of the United States. I’ll never forget screening a rough cut of this film the day after the 2016 election; it felt much different than the film I thought I was making 24 hours before.

How fitting or ironic is it that Nick Denton, a smut peddler (my opinion!), is the ostensible symbol of the last stand for a free press?

There is an element of the People v. Larry Flynt in this story. One of the reasons I found the trial so compelling is that it wasn’t an easy case. I picked it because it was hard, because it was on the fringes of acceptability. The most interesting and important speech cases aren’t usually the cleanest. But it becomes something different when you factor in the essentially unlimited supply of secret money fueling Hogan’s side and imagine very wealthy people applying Thiel’s tactics to other news sources you love.

What would stop that? Gawker actually broke some important stories. Right now all watchdog journalism is struggling while inequality in our society is staggering. It is too easy to leverage great wealth against inconvenient voices who question that power.

Thinking of this story in generational terms: The new media environment that spawned Gawker also brought us Peter Thiel, Trump . . . even your film. Can you discuss your film’s story in generational terms and what it portends for the future of media in America?

The internet created an environment where new voices could be heard, where protest groups could more easily organize and where information could be spread unfiltered to inform the public. That caused well-deserved fissures in a media world that had become too corporatized and cozy to power. But what we’re seeing now is the dark side, big money co-opting once revolutionary tools, large-scale surveillance and a deluge of misinformation that arguably leaves the public less informed.

The old journalism model is dead and a new one is struggling to be born, unsteady in a hailstorm of special interests and newly freed political money. This is particularly true when it comes to communities across the United States who have lost their local newspapers and with them an important check on power. But we can’t sit around waiting for some new model to emerge. Ready or not, this is a moment of reckoning. Watchdog journalism needs to step up to the challenge; this is why it exists.

Has Peter Thiel responded to the film? Did he decline to be interviewed?

Peter Thiel hasn’t responded to the film and he declined our repeated requests for an interview. But I really wish he did talk to us, I would have loved to put his perspective in the film. The best we got was a response to one of our questions at the National Press Club, one of the few places Thiel has spoken about his behind-the-scenes participation in the case.

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WATCH: Ani DiFranco demands reproductive freedom as “a civil right”

COVER_PHOTO-AniGuitar

The indie folksinger Ani DiFranco, who started out performing in coffeehouses as a teen in the late ’80s, has long been a feminist icon. She sings of love, pacifism, reproductive rights and progressive politics on her 20th album “Binary,” released earlier this month. For a recent episode of “Salon Talks,” she described her journey as an independent musician in a world of big-media suits. 

How does poetry play into the writing?

I was into poetry as a little kid, when I first learned about it in school. The whole idea of distilling language and making it communicate beyond its borders just really interested me. A little bit later I picked up the guitar and started getting into music and songwriting and so that the poetry fetish kind of found its natural extension through song. But I’ve always continued to write poems just as poems, too, because it’s a very different sort of beast than songs.

I love the music of language. Even before I was making songs — just the music of the way we speak, the prosody . . . the musicality, the music of prose, the melody.

I’m all about that in my writing, trying to echo the music of how we speak in a song so you can really feel it being spoken to you.

What’s the message of the new song “Play God”?

That song really comes from a place of trying to frame reproductive freedom as a civil right. . . . There’s a whole area of unfinished business in civil rights that apply only to women, and we just seem to not even have that language yet that can sort of help us to put it in the realm where I think it belongs.

The song is just trying to talk about how women are much more deeply informed about reproduction and creation and how death is a part of life. I think every menstruation teaches us that. We spin dark every time because there’s death involved, whether that egg is fertilized or not. I’ve had several abortions. I’ve given birth to several children. I’ve had a miscarriage.

Like any woman, I think I know more than a man what it all means, so I think that I should be given that respect.

Catch more of the DiFranco on Salon about her latest album, musical inspiration and civil rights.

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“Prime Suspect: Tennison”: An unnecessary prequel to a provocative “Masterpiece” classic

Stefanie Martini as Jane Tennison in "Prime Suspect: Tennison"

Stefanie Martini as Jane Tennison in “Prime Suspect: Tennison” (Credit: PBS)

Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison is a force. As realized by Helen Mirren in the ’90s on the British crime series “Prime Suspect” as well as in two chapters that aired in the aughts, the detective is impenetrable and pitiless. She’s also a doggedly determined sleuth who stands among the best of the best within London’s highly competitive Metropolitan Police Department. Tennison’s path is paved at severe cost: She distances herself from romantic love or much in the way of real emotional connection and numbs her inner demons with alcohol. Her choice to isolate herself catches up with her in the end.

Long before that came Woman Police Constable Tennison, portrayed by Stefanie Martini in “Prime Suspect: Tennison.” And WPC Tennison is the superintendent as a zygote, a rookie destined to grow into the dauntless crimefighter that Mirren spent 15 years carving and polishing into legendary form but that is in no way present as the prequel begins Sunday at 10 p.m. on PBS member stations — or, in truth, when it ends.

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Martini’s Jane Tennison is 22, fresh out of training and starting a probationary stint at East London’s Hackney Police Station in 1973. Her outlook and her liver have yet to be hardened by years of repressed rage and loneliness, even as she bristles at being ordered to back-burner her desire to solve cases so as to focus on secretarial duties, including fetching tea for her male co-workers.

“Tennison” soon places Jane, purely by happenstance, on the periphery of a case involving the murder of a young woman — not at the center of it, mostly just on the sidelines as her mentor, Detective Chief Inspector Len Bradfield (Sam Reid) takes point and brings her along for the ride.

Now, this is appropriate to the era as well as Tennison’s level of training. It also explains why “Prime Suspect: Tennison” plods along listlessly, which, given the title’s legacy, is a larger crime than anything author Lynda LaPlante could dream up.

The fault for this lies less with Martini than with a lack of realization on the part of producer Rhonda Smith and director David Caffrey that this franchise’s draw is the main character, not its cases. And this pedestrian march through London’s criminal underworld — which inexplicably requires three 90-minute episodes to fully realize — doesn’t change that.

Prior “Prime Suspect” episodes are effortlessly taut in comparison, with every season except for its fourth consisting of two episodes. Even season 4’s three episodes didn’t feel like enough at that time; it was tough to succumb to the gravitational pull of Mirren’s performance only to be set adrift after so short a stint. “Prime Suspect” is an ensemble piece in title only; Mirren always shouldered the weight of those plots, making Tennison’s edges increasingly jagged as more time passed.

But Martini is not afforded the opportunity to test the extent of her ability to engage viewers because the series isn’t expressly about her character. Because of this, little is illuminated about Jane Tennison’s early years, effectively negating its value as a prequel.

Expecting Martini to channel Mirren isn’t reasonable or fair, and Martini shouldn’t have to. One needs only to look at the success of “Endeavour,” the period piece prequel to “Inspector Morse.” Like “Prime Suspect: Tennison,” “Endeavour” airs under the “Masterpiece” umbrella and presents a youthful Endeavour Morse (played by Shaun Evans) as an Oxford dropout navigating class differences within the town that he helps to police. Evans’ characterization of Endeavour tips his hat at his future incarnation, played in “Inspector Morse” by the late John Thaw. But the young Endeavour is a standalone creature, inquisitive and confident, as daring as he is determined.

Viewers could have been treated to something similar with a young Jane Tennison. Women like her aren’t transformed into blunt instruments overnight. Her personality is the result of a kind of spiritual wiring gone dead, internal switches turning off one by one, never to be flipped on again. This is why the prospect of “Prime Suspect: Tennison” seems enticing.

Yet we only see hints at this midway through the final episode, following three and a half hours of muddled gumshoeing that largely focuses on Hackney’s run-of-the-mill rough detectives and rumpled perps.

Fortunately Martini’s Tennison is being forced into early retirement. ITV announced it would not commission a second series of the prequel, known in the U.K. as “Prime Suspect 1973,” in spite of its high ratings. Creative differences between LaPlante and ITV are said to be the cause, which the author confirmed in a lengthy Facebook post that explained much about why this TV chapter comes up short.

“During the production it became apparent to me that ITV’s vision for the series would not be an accurate adaptation of my novel ‘Tennison,’ and the characters that had been cast were far from how I had written them in the book,” LaPlante wrote.

The author goes on to assure her fans that young Jane Tennison lives on in her books. Mirren’s Jane Tennison can be accessed on Hulu, where the original “Prime Suspect” seasons are currently being streamed.

Revisiting the original is beyond worthwhile, and reminding audiences of its existence may be the noblest purpose served by “Prime Suspect: Tennison” popping up on the schedule. Your 270 minutes are better spent with those reliable classic episodes than with Martini’s muddled contribution.

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The day he thought he could fly: How my father broke our family’s silence on schizophrenia

Young Man on Roof

(Credit: Getty/Donald34/75tiks/splendens)

In the late summer of 1936, scalding winds scoured the Southern California region. As the calendar reached September, the 16 year-old known as Junior couldn’t shut off the voices now shouting inside his head. Preoccupied with the growing Nazi threat in Europe, day and night he roamed the sidewalks of Pasadena, the same ones that had carried him to grade school on his metal roller skates a decade before. Begging him to save the free world, the voices grew in intensity each day. Desperate to emerge with a plan to save the free world, Junior continued his relentless pacing.

Not long after midnight on Sunday, September 6, he paused. Silent houses surrounded him in the darkness. With his shirt soaked in sweat, he gasped as a new awareness took hold of his body and mind. With thrilling clarity, he now understood: He was the sole human destined to save the free world. His long days and nights of searching had not been in vain! The revelation filled him with wonder.

As his thoughts gathered speed another insight emerged. Alone among mankind, he had attained the power of flight. His arms, in fact, had become wings. Like Icarus, if he lifted them toward the sky, he’d be aloft. Once he soared toward the clouds, the free world’s leaders would witness this magnificent signal and pledge to conquer the Fascists. Alas, through his tortured logic, he reasoned that his flight would be seen around the globe only after sunrise. For now, he must await the dawn, using every ounce of his energy to shield his secret.

For several years, international prohibition leaders had attended periodic dinners at his family home, alongside his father, Virgil Hinshaw, Sr., an international leader in the movement.

Inevitably, discussions turned to the world situation. “The Fascists are taking over, Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany,” said one grim discussant. “They will dominate the world!” “You Americans are isolationists,” called out another. “Who will preserve international freedom?”

Sitting with his five brothers at the table, Junior felt his alarm grow each time. But with so much to accomplish — homework, church, sports, and part-time jobs — the warnings gradually faded. After all, what could a family of Quakers, committed pacifists, really do to aid the world situation? Yet now, with his senior year of high school approaching and his parents out of town at a Prohibition meeting, a newfound surge of energy took possession of his being, his mind expanding as it never had before.

Amplified by radio accounts of the rise of the Fascists, the visitors’ warnings called out to him: The Nazi threat is real! Black- and- white newsreels looped before his eyes: Brownshirts marching, Hitler’s speeches before massive crowds. Repression grew but America did nothing to heed the signs. Possessed by his new mission, he understood that if he dared not step forward, who would?

But how? If not for him, the Fascists might prevail.

As the early morning hours inched toward dawn, the winds abated. Finally, a brilliant yellow-orange, the sun emerged to the east, spreading long shadows from roofs and palms. Enthralled by his energy and remarkable insights, Junior reached his block on North Oakland Avenue, moving furtively past a few yards to find his own home, a dark-brown bungalow now directly in front of him. Breathing in, he crossed the lawn with muted footsteps. As the front door beckoned, he stared at it and then above. All was silent in the early daylight.

There was no turning back. The time was now.

But how to ascend? Thinking fast, he nimbly scrambled up the trellis, steadying himself as he found footholds. A final thrust and he was on the roof above the small front porch, the walkway twelve feet below. The sky loomed majestically before him, the air already torrid. The voices inside his mind reached a crescendo, pleading with him to perform his deed. Save the free world!

Glory would be his.

Approaching the edge, he shed his clothes and heaved them over, shoes, pants, and shirt floating to the ground beneath. Suddenly cooler, he held his breath. Calf muscles straining, arms outflung, he pushed off and propelled himself forward. For a second, there was only the feel of the air against his skin. The ground rushed toward him before everything turned black.

I learned of this event without any preparation at all. In mid-April 1971, I settled into the living room sofa, picking up a magazine. I needed to start some serious reading for my freshman-year term papers at Harvard but couldn’t resist a short break. Back in Columbus, Ohio, where I’d spent my first seventeen years, I felt as though a heavy backpack weighed me down— each compartment filled with disbelief. Did I really belong here anymore?

Was there some kind of stirring in the wind, a small signal of change in the air? If so, I paid no attention. Things would never change, I was sure, inside the stillness of our family home.

All week, for my first spring break, I’d wandered the house in a half-daze. Everything appeared as though behind museum ropes.

After glancing through a magazine or two, I heard a soft shuffling sound. Peering up, I saw Dad approach awkwardly from his study. He must have returned from his morning classes on campus, where three mornings per week he lectured on the history of Western philosophy for masses of Ohio State undergraduates. My sister Sally was in eleventh grade at the huge high school a block behind our home. Mom was at OSU, teaching English.

Dad and I were alone in the house.

“Son,” he began in a quiet voice, his eyes avoiding mine. He used the formal term when things were serious, a remnant of his Quaker upbringing. “Could we talk for a bit?”

Placing the magazine down, I turned to face him. His body was slightly hunched, his face tense. He no longer resembled the athletic, confident personage he’d once been, early in his career and early in my life. By now, a small paunch surrounded his stomach and a heavy gravity seemed to be pulling down the corners of his mouth.

“Sure,” I replied, wondering vaguely if I’d done something wrong. A trickle of adrenaline coursed through my veins. He beckoned for me to follow him into his bookshelf-lined library, the room he’d planned when our house had been designed a decade before. The navy blue, brown, and maroon hues of the book covers seemed to call out from the wooden shelves. Each time I entered, I felt overwhelmed by the world’s knowledge of science, history, and math inside those pages.

Dad paused as I walked past and pulled the sliding door shut, the soft metallic whirr of its rollers filling the air until wood contacted wood with a small hollow pop. I sat down on a straight-backed chair he’d placed near his desk, close to the tangle of file folders, syllabi, and lecture notes crowding its surface. Dad’s downward gaze and the quiver in his voice told me that our talk would not be about my freshman year or minor issues at home. As he cleared his throat, I clenched.

“Steve,” he began, “there are sometimes experiences, situations in life that are, well, difficult to understand.” To my surprise he was fumbling for words, far different from his usual orations on philosophy and science. “What I mean is this: Perhaps it’s time you heard about some events from my history.” He paused. “There were times when I wasn’t fully rational.”

As he continued speaking time slowed. Worlds passed before my eyes as fast as I could process them. From his occasional talks with me when I was young, I knew of the Hinshaw family’s tribulations and achievements. But something had always been missing, especially surrounding his strange disappearances, when he would vanish for weeks or months at a time. Nothing had ever been said.

From this first, revelatory talk in Dad’s home library, from many more over the following twenty-four years, from discussions with his brothers that began during my twenties, and from long-preserved family letters, I pieced together the events as though witnessing them in person. It’s as though I’d been transported back to Pasadena.

He finally wrapped up: “There have been other times in my life with similar episodes. I’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Perhaps we should discuss all this during a subsequent talk.”

We stood up and awkwardly shook hands. I pushed back my chair, turned, and pulled open the sliding door. While hearing Dad’s words I’d fought panic but also experienced a deep stillness. At last I knew something. A current of air had entered the vast vacuum just a step behind me, which I’d tried to shut out my whole life. At last, a few sounds had emerged from the void. Only one thing was certain.

From that moment forward my life would never be the same.

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Is big alcohol taking a hit from legal weed?

liquor 1221

(Credit: Alexey Lysenko via Shutterstock)

AlterNet

The legal weed market appears to be impacting booze’s bottom line.

Consumer trend data compiled by OutCo and Monocle Research finds that many California twenty-somethings, post-legalization, are switching from beer to pot. Marketers surveyed 2,000 cannabis consumers in seven major California cities. One-third of millennial respondents said that they are choosing cannabis over beer. One out of five acknowledged substituting weed for wine, and 14 percent admitted consuming herb rather than hard alcohol.

Older respondents, including baby boomers, also reported making the switch from booze to pot. According to the survey, 20 percent of Gen Xers and eight percent of boomers similarly acknowledged substituting pot in place of alcohol.

The findings provide further credence to a December 2016 report from the Cowan & Company research firm which determined that beer sales by major distributors – including Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors – have “collectively underperformed” over the past two years in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In Denver, arguably the epicenter for the marijuana retail sales market, beer sales have fallen nearly seven percent, analysists concluded.

A March 2017 research report by the Cannabiz Consumer Group similarly indicates that cannabis is cutting in on beer’s popularity. Researchers reported that 27 percent drinkers surveyed said that they had either substituted cannabis for beer, or that they would do so in the future if retail weed sales become legal. The company estimated that beer sales could decline by as much as $2 billion if cannabis was legal nationwide.

Questions concerning whether cannabis typically acts as a substitute or as a complement to alcohol remain ongoing. But a 2014 literature review published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism indicates that the weight of the available evidence supports the former theory – particularly among young adults. Authors concluded: “While more research and improved study designs are needed to better identify the extent and impact of cannabis substitution on those affected by AUD (alcohol use disorder), cannabis does appear to be a potential substitute for alcohol. Perhaps more importantly, cannabis is both safer and potentially less addictive than benzodiazepines and other pharmaceuticals that have been evaluated as substitutes for alcohol.”

Survey data from states where medical cannabis has long been legally available frequently report declines in alcohol consumption. For instance, a 2011 patient survey from California reported that those qualified to access medicinal cannabis used alcohol at rates that were “significantly lower” than those of the general public. More recently, a study published this year in the Journal of Psychopharmacology reported that over 40 percent of state-registered medical marijuana patients acknowledged reducing their alcohol intake after initiating cannabis therapy.

Polling data finds that most Americans, and those between the ages 18 to 40 in particular, now believe that cannabis is far less harmful to health than alcohol. Their belief is supported by the relevant science. For example, alcohol possesses a dependence liability that is nearly twice that of cannabis, is a far greater contributor to traffic accidents, and is capable of causing organ failure and even death by overdose. According to a 2011 study comparing the physical, psychological, and social impact of the two substances: “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to [individual] users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society). … As there are few areas of harm that each drug can produce where cannabis scores more [dangerous to health] than alcohol, we suggest that even if there were no legal impediment to cannabis use, it would be unlikely to be more harmful than alcohol.”

The fact that the legal marijuana market may pose potential challenges for the alcohol beverage industry is hardly going unnoticed. The topic was front and center at the 2016 Beer Industry Summit, according to reports from attendees. And last year, industry players contributed funds against voter-initiated legalization measures in Arizona and Massachusetts. (The Massachusetts initiative passed while the Arizona measure was defeated.)

Yet, given the ubiquitous role alcohol plays in American culture, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the emerging legal marijuana market presents a serious threat to Big Booze any time soon. After all, while federal lawmakers have endorsed Congressional resolutions “commending” US beer sales, they simultaneously refuse to amend federal law to even permit marijuana businesses to have relationships with banks or take standard payroll deductions. In short, as long as booze remains king on Capitol Hill, the cannabis industry will continue be engaged in an uphill battle for both respectability and market share.

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Jury acquits Milwaukee police officer in fatal shooting of Sylville Smith

Sylville Smith

Family members of Sylville Smith gather where he was shot and killed by Milwaukee police in Milwaukee, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. Police in Milwaukee say a black man whose killing by police touched off arson and rock-throwing was shot by a black officer after turning toward him with a gun in his hand. Wisconsin’s governor, meanwhile, has put the National Guard on standby in case of more violence Sunday night. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) (Credit: AP)

On Wednesday, after fewer than ten hours of deliberation, a jury acquitted a Milwaukee police officer for the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith, according to a report from the New York Times. In the wake of the August 2016 shooting, protests erupted in the north side neighborhoods of Milwaukee, Wisconsin — protests that would ultimately turn violent and last for two days.

Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was charged with first-degree reckless homicide, for which he faced up to 60 years in prison. He was fired in October on unrelated sexual assault charges, and was officially charged for the shooting in December 2016, according to the Times.

Heaggan-Brown’s acquittal arrives at a political moment when communities across the country have grown weary over the lack of accountability for law enforcement officers.

The tragic ordeal that led to Smith’s death began in a residential neighborhood and lasted roughly 12 seconds. Initially, police approached Smith because they suspected he was involved in a drug deal. Smith then fled, as the body camera footage shows, while in possession of a gun. While attempting to hop over a chain-link fence, Smith tossed the weapon over, and was shot by Heaggan-Brown. After Smith fell to the ground, the officer fired a second shot into Smith’s chest — a mortal wound that an official from Milwaukee County’s medical examiners office said was “not survivable.” Both the officer and the suspect were African-American. Prosecutors argued the first shot, which hit Smith in his right arm, was “reasonable,” but that the second shot was not.

The Times reported:

The video showed that at the time the officer fired a second shot, Mr. Smith no longer had a gun and was on the ground — “hands up, with no place to go,” said the prosecutor, John Chisholm.

Officer Heaggan-Brown had no reason to fear for his life once Mr. Smith was unarmed, wounded and unable to run away, Mr. Chisholm said during his closing arguments on Tuesday. “Shooting someone point blank when he’s on the ground is utter disregard for life,” he said.

Jonathan Smith, Heaggan-Brown’s lawyer, argued that the officer had only been acting as he was trained to do so. He told jurors that officers had been taught a “one-plus rule,” meaning that when a suspect has one firearm they may have another, according to the Times. “A gunfight doesn’t end until the threat is stopped,” Smith said, arguing that officers were trained to use deadly force until no further threat exists.

Prosecutors noted that Heaggan-Brown went out to a bar just one night after shooting Smith. At the bar he drank heavily and, speaking to a stranger, “bragged about being able to do whatever” he wanted “without repercussions” He then sexually assaulted the stranger, dropped him off at a hospital, and contacted one of his superiors to cover up his misdeeds, according to the Times.

Last week Jeronimo Yanez, a police officer in Minnesota, was acquitted of all charges in the killing of Philando Castile. Dashcam footage of the routine traffic stop that led to Castile’s death was made available on Tuesday.

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Right-wing rag Daily Caller rails against “coastal elites,” then asks its readers to buy $90 cases of “Les Déplorables”-brand wine

Couples drinking wine

(Credit: Getty/kali9)

The mass email from The Daily Caller has a bouquet of groupthink that opens into floral notes of irony: it begins with a jab at “liberal snowflakes” before announcing “we are proud to be the Deplorables, the real Americans that respect this country’s tradition and fight coastal elitism.” And what better way to celebrate Deplorable pride, the conservative magazine asks, than to join their wine club?

Les Deplorables Wine comes in two varietals, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay. Both are delicious Central Coast wines that will leave you wanting more as soon as you finish a bottle,” the Daily Caller writes, seven sentences after decrying coastal elites, many of whom were undoubtedly involved in the grape-picking, fermenting and bottling process for Les Deplorables.

If the Daily Caller is indeed trying to provoke class antagonism between “deplorables” and “coastal elites,” selling the deplorables on fancy wine seems to belie that mission. Yet the irony of a Daily Caller Wine Club was evidently lost on the editors of the conservative magazine founded by millionaire pundit Tucker Carlson, who himself has been known to be a wine drinker.

Screenshot of Daily Caller wine club email courtesy of Daily Caller

Screenshot of Daily Caller wine club email courtesy of Daily Caller

It’s curious that the Daily Caller thought that no one would point out the irony. In any case, the right’s slur du jour, “coastal elites” is a petty, meaningless term, which is mainly used as a rhetorical ploy to suggest a false separation between “them” and “us.” Indeed, using abstract labels to separate people into the virtuous and the outcasts is a common strategy on the right: obfuscate the real, material conditions of our oppression and suggest other groups are responsible besides those who actually oppress you and me on a day-to-day basis (namely, the hyper-rich and their authoritarian foot-soldiers who uphold the rapacious economic system we are trapped within).

In any case, the truth about the Daily Caller’s wine club is that it— like many cynical right-wing websites — presents an opportunity to monetize the hyper-partisanism that the website feeds into. Hence, the Daily Caller depicts buying their wine as an act of righteous zealotry:

Although President Trump won the election in November, liberals – especially the liberal media – have not stopped sullying the reputations of those they do not like. If anything, they have stepped it up. That’s why it is more important than ever to fight for an independent media that publishes real news. You can do that today by purchasing a bottle of Les Deplorables Wine. These wines are made in America, and proceeds go toward combating left-wing media bias. So by getting one or more bottles, you will be standing up for your values as a Deplorable yourself.

There you have it: the Daily Caller’s readers are not merely buying a bottle of wine, but a political statement. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has suggested that we are living in the age of “cultural capitalism,” in which we do not merely buy a product, but buy an ideology with it. Normally this “ethical consumption” ethos is the realm of liberal, coastal elites — think Whole Foods or Starbucks’ feel-good branding — though clearly the Daily Caller expects its audience to buy into the notion, too. 

In any case, it’s hard to see the Daily Caller’s wine-mongering as anything but a cynical cash grab. The magazine is, in their own words, “a for-profit, independent news outlet.” So when they say that your money goes to “combating left-wing media bias,” what they really mean is that “you give us money and we keep that money because we’re a for-profit company.”

Of course, there’s a long, proud right-wing tradition of media figures profiting off conservatives’ anger while framing their enrichment as ideological just. Just this week, an anti-“Julius Caesar” protester successfully monetized her arrest.

But enough with ironic undertones, let’s talk about the wine: Is Les Déplorables any good? Is it worth the $15-$35, after shipping and taxes, that the Daily Caller’s bande de déplorables will shell out? And does all this French wordplay mean that conservatives no longer hate the French?

I called the Daily Caller Wine Club to inquire about the terroir of Les Déplorables, which would hint at whether the price point seemed off. “It’s a variety of Napa wines,” the Daily Caller representative told me. “So a blend?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. He didn’t know the vineyards from which it originated, and couldn’t give more specifics about it.

But other evidence of Les Déplorables’ Napa origins were scant. “If the bottle actually says ‘Napa’ on it, 75 percent of the fruit has to come from Napa,” an on-premise sales representative, who deals wine to restaurants in San Francisco, told Salon. (The sales representative asked to be quoted pseudonymously due to their company policies.)

Indeed, the Daily Caller’s own website states specifically that both the “Les Déplorables”-brand Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon “are delicious Central Coast wines that will leave you wanting more as soon as you finish a bottle.”

The Central Coast is a big region, so what does “Central Coast” really tell us about Les Déplorables’ origin? The wine sales rep who spoke to Salon was dismissive. “If it says ‘Central Coast,’ they’re probably full of shit,” they told Salon. “The Central Coast is where the cheapest grapes come from. It’s a gimmick. I’d be shocked if that wine was worth $20.”

“If they’re trying to tell you ‘Napa’ over the phone but the label says ‘Central Coast,’ it’s pretty safe to say they’re from the Central Valley, which is where the cheapest fruit comes from,” they added. “If not, they’d be repping the good parts of the Central Coast like Pasa Robles or Monterey. I don’t even sell any wines from Central Coast,” they said.

If the Daily Caller really is getting rich off selling cheap wine to Deplorables, they might just live up to their adjective.

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Power in the absence of money

Donald Trump

(Credit: Getty/Chip Somodevilla/uschools)

It was 6 a.m. on an icy November morning at Fort Carson, Colorado, when I learned the one thing that West Point had been trying to teach me for four years. It was getting light, and we had just gone through reveille formation, that ridiculous Army ritual whereby the whole company stands in formation at some ungodly predawn hour and a report is taken that everyone is present and accounted for — or maybe not.

Anyway, on this particular morning, the company commander had given the order that my platoon was to “police the area.” I had to get this motley crew to do something none of us, including me, wanted to do, which was to line up shoulder to shoulder and walk slowly through the barracks area picking up cigarette butts, Coke cans, candy wrappers, anything on the ground that wasn’t dead grass, rocks or dirt.

It was a typical Colorado winter morning. The temperature was somewhere south of freezing and a stiff wind was blowing in from the eastern slope of the Rockies straight down the collars of our field jackets. We’d been out there maybe 10 minutes; already I could feel my toes freezing in my combat boots, and I knew the whole platoon was just as cold as I was. There I stood, confronting 30 sleepy, pissed-off, grossly underpaid infantry soldiers, about half of whom were just back from Vietnam, and the other half on orders to go there. So how do you do it? How do you convince these unwilling crapped-on soldiers to spend the next half hour bending over and picking up trash in the freezing cold?

You can’t entice them with extra money. Armies don’t give raises. Nor can you threaten the lot of them with some form of punishment, like confinement to the barracks or reduction in pay. Too many of them to punish all at once. You had to get them to do this shit detail using neither carrot nor stick. You had to “motivate” them. You had to make them want to walk around in the freezing cold picking up cigarette butts because you told them to. You had to use that secret they passed along from men to boys up there on the Hudson. You had to exercise power in the absence of money. After that shit detail was over, you could retreat to the warmth of the mess hall and have some breakfast and then you could move on to the next fascinating shit detail the Army had in store and do it all over again.

This is a puny example, but in combat leaders must similarly exercise power in the absence of money because you can’t offer soldiers a raise to charge a machine gun position or threaten them with prison for failing to take a hill or conquer an enemy. If you could, our national coffers would be empty and our prisons full because we haven’t conquered an enemy in seven decades.

Donald Trump, who never chanced upon a dollar he didn’t want to jam into his own pocket, has no understanding of power in the absence of money. Apart from the man’s penchant for lying, his unearned festering resentments and instinct to corruption, this essential failing is at the heart of many of his problems since arriving in the White House five months ago. Washington is a place that prizes power just as much as Trump’s hometown does, but measures it differently. At two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue stand centers of power measured in votes and the money necessary these days to amass them. In between, there is the government where power comes, in measures large and small, to those who wait.

These people are bureaucrats, part of the “swamp” Trump has spoken of so derisively for the last two years, and he hates them. He hates them for the smallness of the jobs they have in their various departments and agencies and committees and boards. He hates them for the smallness of their paychecks. He hates them for their patience because he has none. But most of all he hates them for their power, of which they have massive quantities, and its insulation from him and his needs and desires. They were there for a long time before he arrived at the White House, and they’ll be there long after he’s gone, and he hates them for this perhaps most of all.

To lead the nameless, faceless horde that actually does the work of the government, Trump appointed a Cabinet of billionaires and battering rams. He appointed the billionaires because he understands them and sees their business instincts as disruptive to government. He appointed the battering rams because he apparently believes if you pound on something long enough, you will diminish it. In neither case have his hopes borne fruit. His billionaires are so clueless about the ways of government that the news is filled daily with their malapropisms and fumblings at managing departments and workforces they have no knowledge of.

His sledgehammer secretaries are similarly flummoxed. If they’re not giving clueless speeches and being either ignored or laughed at like Perry, Pruitt, Carson and DeVos, they are maligning the people who work for them, which is a little like having a breakdown on the highway at midnight and yelling at the tow truck driver for being late, dirty and not talking right. Good luck with getting back on the road and continuing your journey, Tillerson. I’m sure you’ve got the whole State Department watching your back.

I grew up as the son of an Army officer and lived around other military people and federal employees my entire youth, so I was always aware of how little our fathers took home in pay. But I had to get out the General Schedule pay scale, which sets the salary level for more than 70 percent of the federal civilian workforce, to understand just how underpaid the people who work for us really are. A GS1, a federal worker starting at the bottom in an entry-level job, earns from about $18,000 to $21,000 a year, depending on the length of service. A GS15, the equivalent of a civilian general officer, earns from about $103,00 to $135,000, depending on the length of service. There are fairly significant bonus percentages for living and working in areas that are expensive, like New York, Washington and especially San Francisco, but I think we can all agree that nobody’s getting rich making sure we get our passports on time, or that our water quality is safe, or that the tires on our cars won’t come apart with speed, or that the drugs we take won’t kill us or the food we eat won’t make us sick.

Because that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about the federal workforce. We’re talking about a whole bunch of people who go to work every day trying to keep us safe, whether they’re carrying an M4 and wearing body armor over in Mosul, or  manning a computer at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Health and Human Services. The terrible “swamp” Trump has such contempt for sits there every day in drab offices they endured heavy traffic to get to, and they regulate the excesses of the vaunted “market” Trump and his billionaires are so worshipful of.

We’ve gone from 50,000-plus deaths a year from automobile crashes to about 30,000 because cars are safer, and they’re not safer out of the goodness of the manufacturers’ hearts. We’ve gone from a nation where kids could pick chips of lead paint from windowsills in classrooms and eat them to a nation where “regulators” in Washington sent men in white suits to remove that paint and won’t allow it to be used anymore. The same with asbestos. I could take up the next 15 column inches of this story listing the ways that those nameless, faceless “swamp” creatures have improved our lives over the past 50 years, and they didn’t do it to put a BMW in their driveway or their kid in Andover.

That’s why it’s so astonishing to hear Trump and his billionaires talking contemptuously about the people who work for them. The problem with bureaucracy is what makes it powerful. Because the Congress writes laws that are nonspecific, it is left to bureaucrats to write the regulations to implement them. Policies can be political but bureaucracies are practical. They are by nature slow, careful, and patient, and they gather power in small bits and pieces, but over time, it adds up. Because the people who work in our government aren’t doing it for the money, they must be motivated by other means. Trump doesn’t know how to do this. His idea of exerting control over the government he leads has been to denigrate and intimidate the agencies and people who work in them. It hasn’t worked. The list of departments that Trump has pissed off in less than six months is dangerously long, and the number of people working in them is frighteningly huge.

Remember his fight with the intelligence “community,” 17 federal agencies filled with spies and law enforcement officers from the FBI all the way through the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and all of the other A’s? How do you think that’s working out for him, to have tens of thousands of people who specialize in peering into dark corners with their eyes focused on those within the White House? How about the State Department? He’s got troubles overseas galore — from North Korea to Syria to Sudan to Ukraine to our neighbor just across our southern border.

Think it was a good idea to tell the people charged with watching your back overseas that you think so little of the work they do, sometimes at great danger to life and limb, you’re going to give a third of them a pink slip? I don’t think Trump is winning any popularity contests over at the Department of Justice, either — not to mention among the judiciary. The defeat of his “travel ban” in one court after another is all the evidence you need that yelling at judges and denouncing courts of appeals is not the way you get judges to give you the benefit of the doubt in close calls. Oh, by the way, every single one of the people he’s pissed off enjoys the same generous federal pay talked about above, wannabe billionaires every one of them.

A good part of the reason you see Trump so confused and angry every day is because he’s lost without money to use as a bludgeon to get his way. Power is no fun when you can’t pick it up and swing it. “Persuasion” must not have been one of his spelling and definition words at New York Military Academy. As for that swamp he keeps promising to get rid of? It will be around long after its human waters have risen and engulfed him.

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“GLOW”: The real good girls revolt

Alison Brie as Ruth in "Glow"

Alison Brie as Ruth in “Glow” (Credit: Netflix/Erica Parise)

When the original version of “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” sneaked onto the schedule in the mid-1980s, I watched it less out of joy than as a secretive act of disobedience. These women weren’t just slamming one another around the ring, they were embracing their physical strength, emphasizing their fortitude and agility with wild eye shadow and glitter. “G.L.O.W.” wrestlers also played with the longstanding wrestling tradition of embodying stereotypes. Two that made me cringe the most were Palestina, a Middle Eastern caricature, and Manna the Headhunter, whose face paint resembled racist drawings.

Those characters and many others made the syndicated wrestling series not just naughty but downright terrible. They also made watching “G.L.O.W.,” which aired from 1986 until 1990, a mischievous act for “good girls.” By that era’s standards, “good girls” didn’t wear loud, tight clothing or gaudy makeup. They didn’t yell or become physical. But admit it, recovering good girls: Didn’t you want to, at least some of the time?

Netflix’s scripted half hour “GLOW,” which debuts on Friday, is a co-creation of Liz Flahive (whose producing credits include “Nurse Jackie” and “Homeland”) and Carly Mensch, who worked on “Orange Is the New Black” with fellow executive producers Jenji Kohan and Tara Herrmann. “Orange,” “Nurse Jackie” and “Homeland” are all driven by female characters who defy traditional strict moral definitions and grope their way through life’s gray areas.

Wrestling, however, operates on a binary type of morality system, with whole franchises built around fictionalized rivalries pitting good against evil, “faces” versus “heels.” Capitalizing on that simple structure makes professional wrestling one of the most abiding entertainment forms in American culture, one whereby viewers accept that the bouts are fake but the physical feats are real.

And this understanding enables the writers of “GLOW” to traverse compelling territory showcasing the lives of many types of women, from athletic stalwarts to rangy punks and whatever Sheila the She Wolf (Gayle Rankin) purports to be.

The winning spirit of “GLOW” rests in its focus on all the ways these characters do not neatly fit into the either/or paradigm, especially Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie), an unemployed actress who’s given a shot at greatness in the ring. But she’s only able to create this luck because she screws up — big time.

It must be said that this role was forged for Brie, the current titleholder of television’s “good girl” trophy because of her roles on “Community” and “Mad Men.” Brie carries herself like a plain Jane, the girl next door. As Ruth, she leads with a sweet nervous smile and flyover-state politeness that do no favors for her character in casting calls. This includes when Ruth auditions for GLOW’s sad sack of a director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), who can’t decide whether he thinks she’s hot or if he never wants to see her again.

But while Ruth’s demeanor announces she is a good girl, life has marked her as a heel. At best, she’s ignored; in her tougher moments, she’s attacked. Joining GLOW gives her an excuse to start fighting back.

Elsewhere Ruth’s best friend Debbie Egan (Betty Gilpin) appears to be soaring through life. Following a stint with a popular soap opera that gained her fame, Debbie stepped away to take care of her husband Mark (Rich Summer) and have a baby. She’s done everything she’s supposed to do and is living the life that rewards those choices.

That is, until a game-changing discovery pile-drives Debbie’s pristine reality into the dirt, eventually emboldening her to leap into the ring.

“GLOW” may be inspired by the female wrestling franchise, but its narrative draws little from its real story (joyfully recounted in an acclaimed 2012 documentary that’s also streaming on Netflix). Instead, the writers use Debbie, Ruth and misfits like Sheila and the outfit’s soft-spoken giant Carmen (Britney Young) to show the risk and reward that comes with defying expectations.

The fictional “GLOW” also shuffles through the fraught gender dynamics of a wrestling brand that was founded and cast by men like Sam Sylvia, a B-movie director obviously based on founder Matt Cimber but realized as the kind of grumpy, disheveled, golden-hearted cynic that’s pure Maron. And Sam is the ideal counterweight to Chris Lowell’s preposterously wealthy producer, who ends up making GLOW simultaneously marketable and more deplorable than previously imagined by encouraging the women to emphasize stereotypes.

Hence, the original lineup includes Beirut, a Middle Eastern terrorist played by an Indian med student (Sunita Mani) and the GLOW personality known as Welfare Queen (Kia Stevens, the only cast member with pro-wrestling experience). The series doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace these troubling images but it doesn’t dismiss them either. One episode actually puts them to tremendous use by having Stevens and Sydelle Noel’s Cherry Bang take on physical manifestations of racist ideology, yielding one of the series finest laugh-out-loud moments.

As the title implies, “GLOW” wins top ranking by serving up a sensational story that’s brilliant for summer, but timeless as well. Wrestling may be fake, but the relationships these characters forge throughout the story ring true. Indeed, the real strength of “GLOW” isn’t in its emphasis on competition but in its exploration of the resiliency of female friendships, even those that fall into ruin.

A large reason for that — one that the series seizes upon and raises over its head in triumph — is because wrestling helps these women remember and celebrate their own power. “It’s like I’m back in my body,” a character says near the end of the first season.  “I’m like, using it for me and I feel like a goddamn superhero.” That just feels good.

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