Politics

“Let Doctors Decide” Cannabis Oil Bill Passes 40-0 in VA Senate

Richmond, VA – A unanimous 40-0 vote in the Virginia Senate on Monday saw the passage of a “Let Doctors Decide” bill, officially known as the Joint Commission on Health Care bill SB 726, which allows Virginia doctors to recommend the use of THC-A oil or cannabidiol oil – commonly referred to as CBD oil – as a treatment option for diagnosed conditions.

With companion legislation HB 1251 in the Virginia House of Delegates passing with a unanimous vote on Friday, and since both bills are identical, the bills will “crossover” to the opposite house for a vote, then head to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, also a doctor, who has previously voiced support for Let Doctors Decide medical marijuana laws in the Commonwealth.

“I finally decided that I needed to advocate for the physicians being the decision makers,” Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, a doctor who introduced the Senate bill, told the Staunton News Leader. “We, physicians, are the ones that follow the literature and know which treatments are best for different conditions. The literature on medical cannabis is going to be evolving rapidly now, and because of this, it is not a decision that should be in the hands of the legislature. Instead, it should be with physicians.”

Sen. Dunnavant, who is a licensed physician in Virginia, said that she “always thought of it helping my patients that have breast cancer.” Many Virginians suffering from a plethora of conditions— including cancer, PTSD, Crohn’s disease and MS— lobbied for this reform, as current law allows Virginians to possess cannabis oil solely for the treatment of severe epilepsy.

“Honestly, until this week, I’ve always thought of it helping my patients that have breast cancer, especially the young ones that have children and have so many things to get done, but feel so terrible as they go through chemotherapy,” Sen. Dunnavant continued. “After this week, I won’t be able to forget Tamra Netzel, the patient and my constituent with multiple sclerosis that testified on behalf of this bill in committee. My niece also has MS and having the opportunity to help others in similar situations means a lot to me.”

[RELATED: Truth in Media: Feds Say Cannabis Is Not Medicine While Holding The Patent on Cannabis as Medicine]

Delegate Benjamin L. Cline, who introduced the House bill, explained both the medical benefits of CBD/THC-A oil and the foresight in giving doctors the ability to “make recommendation based on the most up to date research and data.”

“CBD/THC-A oil has been proven to effectively and safely help patients address symptoms of intractable epilepsy and manage pain,” Cline told the Staunton News Leader. “By expanding the ability to recommend CBD/THC-A oil, we are giving doctors the freedom to make a recommendation based on the most up to date research and data, just as they do for any other medication they prescribe.”

Additionally, Jenn Michelle Pedini, both a cancer survivor and the executive director of Virginia NORML, addressed the significant impact of medical cannabis laws on Virginia’s growing opiate epidemic.

“Medical cannabis laws have demonstrated significant impact on the opiate crisis,” Pedini told the News Leader. “States with such laws see on average a 25% reduction in opioid fatalities. We are losing three Virginians every day to opioid overdose. It’s time to give doctors in the Commonwealth the ability to utilize this powerful tool in mitigating addiction and overdose.”

If Gov. Ralph Northam signs the bill into law, Virginia could serve as an exemplary model of a state with a limited medical marijuana program embracing an expansive reform.

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Examining Trump’s Meetings on North Korea with “Long-Time Friend” Kissinger

Last Friday, former U.S. Secretary of State and contentious public figure Henry Kissinger made headlines after asserting that North Korea poses the most immediate threat to “global security” and ominously stated that the “temptation to deal” with North Korea “with a pre-emptive attack is strong.” While some may dismiss Kissinger’s statements as merely the musings of a 94-year-old former statesman, others may argue that his influence over the presidential administration of his “long-time friend” Donald Trump could turn this “temptation” into reality.

After his rise to political prominence, Trump’s first meeting with Kissinger took place in May of 2016. Notably, that meeting occurred only a day after then-candidate Trump said he would open dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if elected President. After that initial meeting, Kissinger and Trump met last November of that same year and, afterwards, Kissinger stated that Trump would likely not be keeping all his campaign promises, as he was undergoing “the transition from being a campaigner to being a national strategist.” This apparently included letting go of his promise to open dialogue with North Korea.

In addition to their meetings in 2016, Kissinger and Trump met an additional three times last year. The most recent of those took place last October, and the topic was none other than North Korea. That same day, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis instructed the U.S. Army to stand ready if North Korea diplomacy fails. The next day, Trump met with the nation’s top military commanders in the White House Situation Room, sometimes called “the War Room,” to discuss possible options for responding to North Korean “aggression.”

These options included the “tempting” plan for a pre-emptive “bloody nose” strike against North Korea. Experts, and even former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, have noted that tens of millions of innocent civilians could easily be killed in the first 30 minutes of a military conflict erupting on the Korean peninsula as well as the fact that such a conflict could quickly become global in scale. Experts have also asserted that the U.S. would be “unlikely” to win a conflict against North Korea.

Yet, of all the possibilities raised during that meeting, not one of them included a diplomatic approach despite the attempts of both North Korea’s and Trump’s own State Department to open dialogue. Those present at the meeting also did not consider North Korea’s repeated offer to terminate its nuclear weapon and missile program if the U.S. stops conducting annual war games with South Korea in proximity to North Korean territory – an offer refused by both Obama and Trump.

While some Trump supporters may argue that Trump is unlikely to follow the advice of someone as closely connected to the “deep state” as Henry Kissinger, Trump has expressed nothing but praise for the man who is credited with transforming U.S. foreign policy into one of perpetual, undeclared war.

Henry Kissinger and Nancy Kissinger, Donald Trump and wife Ivana Trump backstage at a Liza Minelli show in New York, June 11, 1987. (AP/ Ron Frehm)

After their most recent meeting last October, Trump praised Kissinger’s “immense talent.” “Henry Kissinger has been a friend of mine,” he added. “I’ve liked him. I’ve respected him. But we’ve been friends for a long time, long before my emergence into the world of politics, which has not been too long.” All this, despite the fact that Kissinger is also a long-time advisor and confidante of Trump’s former rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton.

Kissinger’s recent statements on North Korea come at an interesting time. Despite best efforts from the U.S. to inflame tensions on the Korean peninsula, North and South Korea have made major breakthroughs towards peace. The most noteworthy of these was the joint decision to have the teams of both nations march together during the upcoming Winter Olympics to be hosted on the Korean peninsula.

Yet, as Kissinger’s past clearly indicates, his version of “diplomacy” does not typically allow for peace. A 2016 article written by Greg Grandin chronicled Kissinger’s most noteworthy actions:

“Let’s consider some of Kissinger’s achievements during his tenure as Richard Nixon’s top foreign policy–maker. He (1) prolonged the Vietnam War for five pointless years; (2) illegally bombed Cambodia and Laos; (3) goaded Nixon to wiretap staffers and journalists; (4) bore responsibility for three genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh; (5) urged Nixon to go after Daniel Ellsberg for having released the Pentagon Papers, which set off a chain of events that brought down the Nixon White House; (6) pumped up Pakistan’s ISI, and encouraged it to use political Islam to destabilize Afghanistan; (7) began the US’s arms-for-petrodollars dependency with Saudi Arabia and pre-revolutionary Iran; (8) accelerated needless civil wars in southern Africa that, in the name of supporting white supremacy, left millions dead; (9) supported coups and death squads throughout Latin America; and (10) ingratiated himself with the first-generation neocons, such as Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who would take American militarism to its next calamitous level.”

Kissinger’s notable stance on North Korea and apparent sway over Trump, along with the Trump administration’s new Nuclear Posture Review, raises additional questions related to Trump’s foreign policy moving forward as well as the question of whether Trump may be later exemplified as a war criminal alongside his “long-time friend”.

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Poll: What entity should be in charge of marijuana law?



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Spike in Amtrak Wrecks Sparks Safety Concerns

The federally-created passenger rail corporation Amtrak, kept afloat by federal and state grants despite a lack of profits, has come under fire for a recent escalation in major wrecks.

On February 4, an Amtrak train hit a parked CSX freight train head-on in Cayce, S.C., killing 2 and injuring 116. Commenting on the accident, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster told The Island Packet, “It appears to me that the CSX train was on the track it was supposed to be on. And that appeared to be a loading track… It appears Amtrak was on the wrong track.” National Transportation Safety Board investigators are still looking into the official cause of the crash. NPR notes that Amtrak blamed CSX for the accident.

On January 31, another Amtrak train wrecked into a garbage truck in Crozet, Va. This chartered train was carrying GOP members of Congress to a retreat. 2 people died and 6 were injured in the incident.

ABC News notes that another Amtrak passenger train, this one taking a curve at over twice the train’s speed limit, derailed in Dupont, Wash., on December 18, 2017, killing 3 and injuring 70.

Amtrak trains have also been involved in smaller crashes of late, such as a December 19 Kalamazoo, Mich. incident reported by 9 And 10 News in which one person was killed when an Amtrak train hit a truck at a railroad crossing.

Also on February 6, Amtrak train cars headed to New York City broke apart, according to New York Business Journal. There were no injuries or fatalities in that incident.

Bloomberg notes that National Transportation Safety Board officials say that the completion of a Congressionally mandated roll-out of a GPS-enabled railway tech called Positive Train Control, which can automatically stop trains before they hit obstructions, could have stopped some of the accidents. The 2008 policy issued an unfunded mandate that all railroads have the tech installed by 2015. When the policy was first announced, PTC technology had not yet been completely developed. As railroad companies began to struggle with the costs involved in installing PTC tech on all rail lines and trains, Congress issued an extension, giving companies until 2018 to begin installation.

A CSX spokesman addressing the February 4 South Carolina crash claimed that CSX is currently on schedule with PTC regulations and has plans in place to begin installation in 2018 and to have the system online by 2020.

Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.) said, “People are dying. We can’t wait any longer on getting PTC systems up and running nationwide. Congress has delayed this deadline time and again and we’ve seen the deadly results.”

Meanwhile, Amtrak has come under fire for what NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt characterized as a “lax” temperament towards accidents. In a meeting discussing potential causes of an April 2016 Amtrak wreck near Philadelphia, Sumwalt warned, “Amtrak’s safety culture is failing, and is primed to fail again.”

Though he had previously criticized the culture at Amtrak, Sumalt cautioned that each accident has a different cause, saying in a press briefing on Monday, “It’s very important that we have to look at each of these accidents in isolation to be able to determine if there are systemic issues. Are we willing to say that there’s a systemic issue with Amtrak? No, we’re not.”

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told USA Today that he hopes to instill a culture of safety in Amtrak similar to that of airlines like Delta, where he worked as CEO prior to Amtrak. “Amtrak is fully committed and values safety as its highest priority,” he said.

While regulators are quick to point to the struggles of implementing PTC when discussing these incidents, the spike in wrecks comes as 24 percent of passenger train miles and 45 percent of freight train miles already have the technology.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington D.C.) called for a Congressional hearing on the accidents after the January 31 crash in Virginia, telling The Washington Post, “The public needs information and assurances on the safety of rail travel before the lengthy NTSB investigation on today’s accident, along with other ongoing NTSB investigations, such as last year’s Amtrak fatal derailment outside of Seattle, concludes. We provided Amtrak with significant funding.”

The Federal Railroad Administration has reported that 1,880 incidents, 96 of them involving trucks, took place at railroad crossings throughout the first 11 months of 2017. According to the Rail Passengers Association, a person or vehicle is hit by a train every 3 hours on average in the United States.

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FBI Informant: Russia Directed Millions to US to Ensure “Affirmative Decisions” on Uranium One

Washington, D.C. — According to a written statement to three congressional committees, an FBI informant associated with the Uranium One deal alleged that the Russian government sent millions of dollars to the United States with the expectation the funds would bolster former president Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative, and that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would oversee a “reset” in the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

The Hill reports that FBI informant Douglas Campbell told the committees that he had been informed by Russian nuclear executives that Russia had hired US lobbying firm APCO Worldwide due to their “position to influence the Obama administration, and more specifically Hillary Clinton.”

Campbell said in the statement, which was obtained by The Hill, that Russian nuclear officials “told me at various times that they expected APCO to apply a portion of the $3 million annual lobbying fee it was receiving from the Russians to provide in-kind support for the Clintons’ Global Initiative.”

“The contract called for four payments of $750,000 over twelve months. APCO was expected to give assistance free of charge to the Clinton Global Initiative as part of their effort to create a favorable environment to ensure the Obama administration made affirmative decisions on everything from Uranium One to the U.S.-Russia Civilian Nuclear Cooperation agreement.”

An APCO official denied that there was any connection between its work for Russia and the Clinton Global Initiative, claiming that any assertions of misconduct were “false and unfounded.”

“APCO Worldwide’s activities involving client work on behalf of Tenex and The Clinton Global Initiative were totally separate and unconnected in any way,” APCO told The Hill in a statement. “All actions on these two unconnected activities were appropriate, publicly documented from the outset and consistent with regulations and the law. Any assertion otherwise is false and unfounded.”

[RELATED: Senate Memo Claims Clinton Allies Were “Feeding” Info to State Dept., Christopher Steele]

Democrats have turned Campbell’s testimony into a partisan affair, calling the FBI informant’s credibility into question, despite the bureau paying him $50,000 for his work with the agency.

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, dismissed Campbell’s testimony as a distraction from the special prosecutor’s “Russian collusion” investigation, which some have claimed began as a strategy formed by the Clinton campaign staff to explain Clinton’s stunning election loss to Trump.

“Just yesterday the committee made clear that this secret informant charade was just that, a charade. Along with the widely debunked text-message-gate and Nunes’ embarrassing memo episode, we have a trifecta of GOP-manufactured scandals designed to distract from their own President’s problems and the threat to democracy he poses,” Merrill said.

A Clinton campaign post-election tell-all, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaignclaimed that Clinton blamed Russian interference for her election loss to Donald Trump “within twenty-four hours of her concession speech”:

“That strategy had been set within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.”

Despite attempts from Democrats to call Campbell’s credibility into question, Republicans are now looking at expanding the investigation into Russian corruption, in relation to the Obama administration and the Uranium One deal, based partially on Campbell’s testimony.

“My FBI handlers praised my work. They told me on various occasions that details from the undercover probe had been briefed directly to FBI top officials. On two occasions my handlers were particularly excited, claiming that my undercover work had been briefed to President Obama as part of his daily presidential briefing,” Campbell wrote.

According to reporting from The Hill:

“Campbell, whose work as an informant was first disclosed in a series of stories published last fall by The Hill, helped the FBI gather evidence as early as 2009 that the Russian nuclear industry was engaged in a kickback, bribery and racketeering scheme on U.S. soil. The criminal scheme, among other things, compromised the U.S. trucking firm that had the sensitive job of transporting uranium around America, Campbell testified.

Campbell says he provided the FBI the evidence of wrongdoing months before the Obama administration approved a series of favorable decisions that enriched Rosatom, including the CFIUS decision. 

The Hill’s stories last fall prompted the Justice Department to take the rare step of freeing Campbell from his nondisclosure agreement as an intelligence asset so he could testify to Congress about what he witnessed inside Russia’s nuclear industry.

Campbell gave the congressional committees documents he said he provided to his FBI handlers in 2010 showing that the Russian and American executives implicated in the Tenex bribery scheme specifically asked him to try to help get the Uranium One deal approved by the Obama administration.”

Campbell’s testimony is of interest to congressional Republicans focused on potential indiscretion in the Obama administration’s approval of the Uranium One deal. The agreement gave Russian mining giant Rosatom control of nearly 20 percent of America’s uranium mining capacity, despite the fact that the United States imports more than 90 percent of the uranium used in its nuclear reactors, according to U.S. government figures from 2016.

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