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Marijuana Backers Look for Midwest Breakthrough in Nov. Election

Backers of broad marijuana legalization are looking to break through a geographic barrier in November and get their first foothold in the Midwest after a string of election victories in Northeastern and Western states.

Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012, lightning speed in political terms.

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Washington, DC, United States (VOA) – Backers of broad marijuana legalization are looking to break through a geographic barrier in November and get their first foothold in the Midwest after a string of election victories in Northeastern and Western states.

Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012, lightning speed in political terms.

Meantime, Missouri and Utah will weigh medical marijuana, which is permitted in 31 states after voters in conservative Oklahoma approved such use in June. Even if Utah’s initiative is defeated, a compromise reached last week between advocates and opponents including the Mormon church would have the Legislature legalize medical marijuana.

“We’ve kind of reached a critical mass of acceptance,” said Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan assistant professor of health management and policy. She said the country may be at a “breaking point” where change is inevitable at the federal level because so many states are in conflict with U.S. policy that treats marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin.

“Generally, people either find a therapeutic benefit or enjoy the substance and want to do so without the fear of being a criminal for using it,” Haffajee said.

Two years ago voters in California approved a ballot measure creating the world’s largest legal marijuana market. Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada are other Western states with legal marijuana for medical and personal uses. On the other side of the country, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana, and every other Northeastern state has approved medical marijuana.

In Michigan, surveys show the public’s receptiveness to marijuana legalization tracks similarly with nationwide polling that finds about 60 percent support, according to Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

The Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project was the driving force behind successful legalization initiatives in other states and has given at least $444,000 for the Michigan ballot drive.

“The electorate is recognizing that prohibition doesn’t work. There’s also a growing societal acceptance of marijuana use on a personal level,” said Matthew Schweich, the project’s deputy director.

“Our culture has already legalized marijuana. Now it’s a question of, ‘How quickly will the laws catch up?”‘ added Schweich, also the campaign director for the Michigan legalization effort, known as the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Midwest voters have considered recreational legalization just once before, in 2015, when Ohio overwhelmingly rejected it. Supporters said the result was more back lash against allowing only certain private investors to control growing facilities than opposition to marijuana.

Proponents of Michigan’s measure say it would align with a new, strong regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses and add roughly $130 million annually in tax revenue, specifically for road repairs, schools and municipalities.

Critics say the Michigan measure is out of step and cite provisions allowing a possession limit of 2.5 ounces (71 grams) that is higher than many other states and a 16 percent tax rate that is lower. Opponents include chambers of commerce and law enforcement groups along with doctors, the Catholic Church and organizations fighting substance abuse.

Randy Richardville, a former Republican legislative leader and spokesman for the opposition group Healthy and Productive Michigan, said adults – even those without serious health problems – already can easily obtain pot under the state’s lax medical marijuana law. The ballot proposal, he said, would lead to a more “stoned” workforce, car crashes and crimes, and increased health risks for teens.

“This has nothing to do with a citizens’ initiative with a whole bunch of people out there that said they would like to smoke marijuana recreationally and responsibly,” Richardville said. “This is a special interest group that put up a lot of dollars so that they can sacrifice our kids’ futures to make more money.”

Dr. Donald Condit, an orthopedic surgeon in Grand Rapids who is helping lead physicians’ opposition, said few doctors see a problem with, for example, terminal cancer patients using marijuana to ease their pain.

But people should think harder about full legalization because marijuana is becoming “very, very potent” and “this stuff could hit the teenage developing brain like a ton of bricks,” he said.

Backers counter that teens’ use of marijuana has not increased in states that already have approved recreational use and point to the drug’s other benefits, like as a safer substitute for painkillers amid the deadly opioid epidemic.

“It’ll take the scourge of the old days when drug dealers sold heroin and crack and methamphetamines and marijuana – it was all lumped together” said Stu Carter, who owns Utopia Gardens, a medical marijuana shop in Detroit. “Now we can pull that away from that illegal drug world and make it much safer for the consumer.”

In North Dakota, legalization faces an uphill battle. No significant outside supporters have financed the effort, which comes as the state still is setting up a medical marijuana system voters approved by a wide margin two years ago.

The medical marijuana campaign in predominantly Mormon Utah, which has received $293,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, was jolted last week when Gov. Gary Herbert said he will call lawmakers into a special post-election session to pass a compromise deal into law regardless of how the public vote goes.

Medical marijuana also is on the ballot in Missouri and while the concept has significant support, voters may be confused by its ballot presentation.

Supporters gathered enough signatures to place three initiatives before voters. Two would change the state constitution; the third would amend state law. If all three pass, constitutional amendments take precedence over state law, and whichever amendment receives the most votes would overrule the other.

An organizer of one amendment, Brad Bradshaw, said it is unclear if having three initiatives could split supporters so much that some or all of the proposals fail.

“A lot of people don’t really even have this on the radar at this point,” he said. “They’re going to walk into the booth to vote and they’re going to see all three of these and say, ‘What the heck?’ You just don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

– Provided by VOA

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Politics

Pichai all but Confirms Google will Launch a Censored Search Engine in China

Google will likely push through with its controversial project to develop a “censored search engine” for China that will block terms deemed unfriendly by the communist rulers.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Menlo Park, CA, United States (4E) – Google will likely push through with its controversial project to develop a “censored search engine” for China that will block terms deemed unfriendly by the communist rulers.

“Project Dragonfly” is a self-censoring mobile search engine being developed by Google exclusively for use in China. Dragonfly is a joint venture between Google and a China-based company.

Critics of Dragonfly claim China will use this tool to suppress dissent. It will be launched in 2019 amid what Human Rights Watch calls a “broad and sustained offensive on human rights” by Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai openly discussed the possibility Dragonfly will fly in China at a recent tech conference in San Francisco. He also tried to make Google’s surrender to China more palatable by claiming only “1%” or Google searches will be censored. One percent of one billion searches is still 10 million and there will certainly be billions of searches per month in China.

Pichai said working on a Project Dragonfly is in line with the company’s mission to “provide information to everyone.” He noted that China accounts for 20% of the world’s population.

Pichai said Google is also taking “a longer-term view” about China. He still claims Google hasn’t decided if it will actually launch Project Dragonfly in China. Pichai said it’s time for Google to get an understanding of the Chinese market from the inside out.

“It’s a wonderful, innovative market,” said Pichai. “We wanted to learn what it would look like if we were in China, so that’s what we built internally.

He noted that “given how important the market is and how many users there are, we feel obliged to think hard about this problem and take a longer-term view.”

Pichai hid the fact Project Dragonfly will censor 1% or more of searches by saying this engine will still be able to answer “well over 99% of the queries” put to it.

Google only confirmed Project Dragonfly’s existence when its chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, spoke at a U.S. Senate hearing last month.

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Amazon Believes it will Win $10 billion JEDI Contract from Pentagon

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has no qualms about working on a controversial Pentagon program Google recently abandoned out of conflicting ethical issues.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Seattle, WA, United States (4E) – Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has no qualms about working on a controversial Pentagon program Google recently abandoned out of conflicting ethical issues.

Bezos has his eye squarely on becoming the sole provider of the massive cloud services demanded by the Pentagon’s lucrative “Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud” (JEDI) program. Worth over $10 billion, JEDI aims to find a solution that will allow the U.S. Armed Forces to transfer massive amounts of data and processing power to the cloud.

The Pentagon defines JEDI as a single indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract that will be its largest cloud vehicle.

“This is going to be more than an IT system,” said Brig. Gen. David Krumm, deputy director for requirements for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. “It’s not email, this is not cloud storage, it’s not data transfer. This is about how us and you together are going to change the way that this nation, its soldiers, its sailors, its marines and airmen fight and win our nation’s wars.”

The Pentagon currently lacks an efficient means of getting timely information and systems to remote areas where the U.S. conducts military operations.

“If you’re a student of military history, you know that lives have been saved and lost and that battles and wars have been won or lost based on bad, no or late information,” said Gen Krumm.

Should Amazon secure the JEDI contract, the project implementation will be left to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the Amazon subsidiary of that provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to individuals, companies and governments on a paid subscription basis. AWS technology allows subscribers to access a virtual cluster of computers, available all the time, through the Internet.

“If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the DoD (Department of Defense), this country is going to be in trouble,” said Bezos.

“We are going to continue to support the DoD, and I think we should,” said Bezos. “One of the jobs of senior leadership is to make the right decision, even when it’s unpopular.”

Bezos did admit some technologies might be misused, but that’s not a reason to stop their development. He compared current technology to the invention of books, which have been used for good and bad, including creating “fascist empires.”

“The last thing we’d ever want to do is stop the progress of new technologies,” according to Bezos. Eventually, society will develop an “immune response” to bad uses of technology, believes Bezos.

Like Sundar Pichai at Google, Bezos is facing an angry backlash from Amazon employees over its business deals with U.S. government agencies. Amazon has already worked with the DoD and multiple law enforcement agencies have used “Rekognition,” its facial recognition system.

Anti-Rekognition Amazon employees and civil liberties organizations clain the software could be used violate human rights.

“I like this country,” said Bezos. “I know everyone is conflicted about the current politics in this country — this country is a gem. It is amazing. It’s still the best place in the world. It’s the place people want to come. There aren’t other countries where everybody’s trying to get in. I’d let them in if it were up to me. I like them. I want all of them in. This is a great country and it does need to be defended.”

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Chinese Concentration Camp Imprisons +1 Million Muslim Uyghurs

China has been forced to admit the existence of a massive concentration camp in which over one million Muslim Uyghurs are imprisoned two months after the United Nations blew the lid off this horrific human rights violation.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Beijing, China (4E) – China has been forced to admit the existence of a massive concentration camp in which over one million Muslim Uyghurs are imprisoned two months after the United Nations blew the lid off this horrific human rights violation.

Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are being held in other camps spread throughout the homeland of Chinese-Muslims, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. The Uyghurs are fighting for their own Muslim homeland separate from China.

A United Nations human rights panel in August said it had received many credible reports that one million ethnic Uyghurs are imprisoned in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”

The allegation came from multiple sources. One of these activist groups, the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said in a report in July that 21 percent of all arrests recorded in China in 2017 were in Xinjiang.

Members of the Uighur community and other Muslims are being treated as “enemies of the state” based solely on their ethno-religious identity.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations tweeted it was “deeply troubled by reports of an ongoing crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslims in China. We call on China to end their counterproductive policies and free all of those who have been arbitrarily detained.”

China, however, continues to imprison Uyghurs and shows no sign of closing what has been described as the world’s largest prison camp. China previously denied the existence of the camp and other camps until confronted with satellite photos showing the sprawling prison complex and documents issued by their own government.

China has confirmed its policy is to use these “vocational training centers” to “educate and transform” people influenced by “extremism,” Beijing has coerced Xinjiang into inserting into its anti-extremism regulations new clauses that prescribe the use of “vocational training centers.” Human rights groups say the amendments are an attempt to retrospectively legitimize the practice of imprisoning masses of Uyghurs without trial.

China’s new defense is the camps are merly “vocational training centers” where the inmates are taught to become better Chinese. Chinense officials also claim these ccenters prevent “terrorism” through “vocational education.”

One official said that because of the alleged vocational training centers, the region was now “safe and stable.” His statement, however, was a tacit admission these prison camps exist.

He went on to make the outlandish claim the centers are intended to improve job skills and Mandarin abilities among Uyghurs and other Muslim Turkic minorities with “a limited command of the country’s common language and a limited sense and knowledge of the law”.

“Through vocational training, most trainees have been able to reflect on their mistakes and see clearly the essence and harm of terrorism and religious extremism,” said the official. “They have also been able to better tell right from wrong and resist the infiltration of extremist thought.”

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