Congress Blocks Veterans Access to Medical Marijuana

Despite strong bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate to allow military veterans to receive medical marijuana recommendations through the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.), Congressional leadership is blocking the change from becoming law.

Last month, the House approved an amendment to let veterans get medical marijuana recommendations from V.A. doctors by a vote of 233 – 189. On the same day, the Senate passed its version of legislation to fund the V.A. through 2017, which included a medical marijuana provision that had already been attached to the bill by the body’s Appropriations Committee in a vote of 20 – 10.

After bills pass both the House and Senate, leadership appoints a conference committee made up of members from either chamber who then meet to reconcile the differences into a final package to be sent to the president for enactment.

Marijuana policy observers expected that the conference committee would include protections for veterans who need medical cannabis since the measures passed so handily through bipartisan votes in both chambers.

But the final V.A. spending package released late Wednesday night is totally silent on the issue, forcing veterans who want medical marijuana to continue to seek recommendations from doctors outside the V.A., which can be costly and time-consuming.

The news comes just one day after Congressional Republicans blocked amendments that would allow state-legal cannabis businesses to access banking services and let Washington, D.C. spend its own money to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana sales from being considered on the House floor.

The veterans medical cannabis language approved by the House and Senate differed somewhat.

The Senate bill read:

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs in this Act may be used in a manner that would—

(1) interfere with the ability of a veteran to participate in a medicinal marijuana program approved by a State;

(2) deny any services from the Department to a veteran who is participating in such a program; or

(3) limit or interfere with the ability of a health care provider of the Department to make appropriate recommendations, fill out forms, or take steps to comply with such a program.

Whereas the House bill said:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce Veterans Health Administration directive 2011-004 (or directive of the same substance) with respect to the prohibition on “VA providers from completing forms seeking recommendations or opinions regarding a Veteran’s participation in a State marijuana program”.

Neither version made it into the conference committee’s report, which the House passed at 3:10 AM Thursday morning by a vote of 239 – 171.

The V.A. policy disallowing its doctors from recommending medical marijuana in states where it is legal actually expired on January 31 but, under the department’s procedures, the ban technically remains in effect until a new policy is enacted.

Advocates expect a new policy soon, but aren’t sure what it will say. In February 2015, a top V.A. official testified before a House committee that the department is undertaking “active discussions” about how to address the growing number of veterans who are seeking cannabis treatments.

The final V.A. bill now heads back to the Senate for an up-or-down vote and, if passed, to President Obama for his signature
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Danny F. Quest, is an artist, blogger, journalist, and media personality. Co. Founder of and author of “120 characters or less’ the guide to winning a debate in the digital age”. Danny now works as a Freelance journalist and graphic designer for Danny’s next big project is “30 days in Gaza” a documentary bringing light to the current conditions of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.

New Bill Would Expose CIA’s Relationship With Hollywood !

An amendment added to Congress’ annual intelligence spending bill may help the public gain a better idea of the U.S. government’s relationship with Hollywood.

According to VICE News, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), included an amendment to S. 3017 that would require the Director of National Intelligence to submit reports detailing the relationship between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agencies and Hollywood. It would also require 15 other agencies to disclose the nature of their relationships with the film industry. These reports would have to be presented annually to congressional oversight committees.

Between 2006 and 2011, VICE reported, the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) had a role in at least 22 of the U.S. entertainment industry’s projects. Some of the productions listed by VICE included the films Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, television shows like Top Chef and Covert Affairs, and documentaries such as the History channel’s Air Americaand the BBC’s The Secret War on Terror. The book, The Devil’s Light, also had the help of the CIA.

Between 2006 and 2011, VICE reported, the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) had a role in at least 22 of the U.S. entertainment industry’s projects

Some of the most controversial findings regarding the relationship between OPA officials and Hollywood insiders were tied to the blockbuster, Zero Dark Thirty.

According to the redacted and previously classified December 2012 CIA report released byJudicial Watch, the CIA granted “‘secret level’ access to the makers of the movie Zero Dark Thirty.” According to VICE, “filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal showered CIA officers involved in the operation with gifts and received unprecedented access, which included the disclosure of classified information to Bigelow and Boal by CIA director Leon Panetta.”

While these revealing facts shocked the world at the time of their release, the relationship between the CIA and the entertainment industry actually dates back to the 1950s.

According to an interview with Public Radio International, Tricia Jenkins, author of The CIA in Hollywood, says that the CIA “developed a think tank to fight communist ideology, which negotiated the rights to George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ – getting a talking pig on the screen 20 years before ‘Charlotte’s Web.’” The agency pressed for “line changes in 1950s scripts to make black characters more dignified, and white characters more tolerant” in order to promote “an attractive image of America to a world picking sides in the Cold War.”

In 1996, PRI reports, the CIA employed a Hollywood liaison. Chase Brandon was the cousin of actor Tommy Lee Jones, a relationship that lent the agency a great number of valuable Hollywood connections. After Brandon was brought on, Jenkins explains, the portrayal of the CIA changed:

 Before the 1990s, in films like ‘Three Days of the Condor’, the CIA was portrayed as evil, amoral assassins, or sometimes buffoons, like Max on the TV show ‘Get Smart’.

“Now,” Jenkins told PRI, “it’s a much more favorable presentation. Frequently being depicted as a moral organization that is highly efficient. It rarely makes mistakes, it’s needed more than ever.”

PRI reports that some of the productions that had received support from the CIA since the 1990s included The Sum of All Fears. Television productions such as 24, Homeland, and Alias, which ran in the 2000s, also received CIA guidance and input. Uglier Hollywood portraits have also been produced without the CIA consent, such as Syriana, which was developed with the help of former agents.

 Once Feinstein’s and Burr’s amendment, along the Intelligence Authorization bill, is voted on by the Senate, we may know more about the relationship between Hollywood and the CIA. However, a review date is yet to be scheduled.
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RELATED:  Video: Anderson Cooper Confronted On CIA Media Connections

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Danny F. Quest, is an artist, blogger, journalist, and media personality. Co. Founder of and author of “120 characters or less’ the guide to winning a debate in the digital age”. Danny now works as a Freelance journalist and graphic designer for Danny’s next big project is “30 days in Gaza” a documentary bringing light to the current conditions of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.

Congressional Office’s Tap Water Contaminated With Lead

The tap water in a congressional office building has been found to be contaminated with levels of lead above the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) action level.

Cannon House Office Building

Cannon House Office Building

On Tuesday, a letter was sent from the Architect of the Capitol, who oversees maintenance of the offices, warning of alarming lead levels in the Cannon House Office Building — one of the oldest congressional buildings in the District.

Canon was built in 1908, long before the world was aware of the dangers of lead pipes.


While there is no “safe” level of lead that humans can ingest, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the EPA urges immediate action be taken when it reaches 15 parts of lead per billion — a marker which the Canon Building’s water has surpassed.

“Although the cause of the increase remains under investigation, in an abundance of caution all drinking water sources and office-provided water filtration units in the building will be turned off beginning at 10 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, 2016,” the letter stated.

Bottled water will be provided for staff and visitors instead.

It seems the far spread issue of toxic drinking water has finally hit Congress close to home — ironically, as they appear to have slowed on their actions to rectify the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The city of Flint made global headlines after it was determined that their water had lead levels so high that it was considered “toxic waste” by the EPA.

The poisoning of the water began in April 2014, when the city stopped receiving its supply from Detroit, instead shifting to water taken directly from the Flint River — a source known to have a high corrosive salt content. Corrosive salts in the water damaged the lead pipes, causing that material to be released into resident’s water.

In October of 2015, one full year later, the state changed the city’s drinking water source back from the polluted Flint River to the Detroit water system, but warned that the water was still not fully safe.

Earlier on Tuesday,  a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that Flint is not an isolated incident, and that there are many other cities facing extreme lead contamination in their drinking water.

The NRDC examined the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) violation and enforcement records from 2013-2015 and found that over 3.9 million people are receiving water that exceeds the agency’s action level.

Incredibly, Flint –the poisoned city that has become a rallying cry for safe water –was not included in the statistics, due to the fact that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality still has not officially reported that the city was in violation of the Lead and Copper Rule.

“If Flint’s extraordinary lead contamination problems are not included in the EPA’s official compliance data, how many other municipalities’ serious lead problems are being swept under the rug by officials responsible for protecting public health?” Erik Olson, director of the NRDC’s health program, asked the press during a telephone conference on Tuesday.

Lead is extremely harmful to young children who may face delayed growth, developmental issues, as well as other mental and physical problems as a result of exposure. Exposure also can cause a host of physical issues in adults including headaches, memory loss, decreased mental function, systemic pain, high blood pressure, and infertility.

New Bill To Give FBI Warrantless Access all Email Records (again)

Secret Text in Senate Bill Would Give FBI Warrantless Access to Email Records

Originally From the INTERCEPT 

A PROVISION SNUCK INTO the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.

If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs — most commonly, information about the name, address, and call data associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.

Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transaction records,” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.

Senate Fails to Extend PATRIOT Act – NSA Begins Shutdown of Bulk Spying Program

The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., whowrote in a statement that one of the bill’s provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”

Wyden did not disclose exactly what the provision would allow, but his spokesperson suggested it might go beyond email records to things like web-surfing histories and other information about online behavior. “Senator Wyden is concerned it could be read that way,” Keith Chu said.

It’s unclear how or when the provision was added, although Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., — the committee’s chairman — and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have both offered bills in the past that would address what the FBI calls a gap and privacy advocates consider a serious threat to civil liberties.

At this point, it should go without saying that the information the FBI wants to include in the statue is extremely revealing — URLs, for example, may reveal the content of a website that users have visited, their location, and so on,” Andrew Crocker, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an email to The Intercept.

“And it’s particularly sneaky because this bill is debated behind closed doors,” Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute, said in an interview.

In February, FBI Director James Comey testified during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats that the FBI’s inability to get email records with NSLs was a “typo” — and that fixing it was one of the FBI’s top legislative priorities.

Greene warned at the time: “Unless we push back against Comey now, before you know it, the long slow push for an [electronic communication transactional records] fix may just be unstoppable.”

The FBI used to think that it was, in fact, allowed to get email records with NSLs, and did so routinely until the Justice Department under George W. Bush told the bureau that it had interpreted its powers overly broadly.

Ever since, the FBI has tried to get that power and has been rejected, including during negotiations over the USA Freedom Act.

The FBI’s power to issue NSLs is actually derived from the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — a 1986 law that Congress is currently working to update to incorporate more protections for electronic communications — not fewer. The House unanimously passed the Email Privacy Act in late April, while the Senate is due to vote on its version this week.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is expected to offer an amendment that would mirror the provision in the intelligence bill.

US Politicians Take Advantage of France Terror Attack to Call for More NSA Spying

Privacy advocates warn that adding it to the broadly supported reform effort would backfire.

“If [the provision] is added to ECPA, it’ll kill the bill,” Gabe Rottman, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s freedom, security, and technology project, wrote in an email to The Intercept. “If it passes independently, it’ll create a gaping loophole. Either way, it’s a big problem and a massive expansion of government surveillance authority.”

NSLs have a particularly controversial history. In 2008, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine blasted the FBI for using NSLs supported by weak evidence and documentation to collect information on Americans, some of which “implicated the target’s First Amendment rights.”

“NSLs have a sordid history. They’ve been abused in a number of ways, including … targeting of journalists and … use to collect an essentially unbounded amount of information,” Crocker wrote.

One thing that makes them particularly easy to abuse is that recipients of NSLs are subject to a gag order that forbids them from revealing the letters’ existence to anyone, much less the public.

Update: May 26, 2016
This story has been updated to provide a comment from Wyden’s office.

FBI Director James Comey on Capitol Hill in February 2016.


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Danny F. Quest, is an artist, blogger, journalist, and media personality. Co. Founder of and author of “120 characters or less’ the guide to winning a debate in the digital age”. Danny now works as a Freelance journalist and graphic designer for Danny’s next big project is “30 days in Gaza” a documentary bringing light to the current conditions of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.

Sen. report on CIA torture is one step closer to vanishing


CIA Director John Brennan, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. (Photo Illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP, Reuters)

Senate report on CIA torture is one step closer to disappearing

The CIA inspector general’s office — the spy agency’s internal watchdog — has acknowledged it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved, Yahoo News has learned.

While another copy of the report exists elsewhere at the CIA, the erasure of the controversial document by the office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident.

The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an “inadvertent” foul-up by the inspector general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight “out of the Keystone Cops,” CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation methods.

“It’s breathtaking that this could have happened, especially in the inspector general’s office — they’re the ones that are supposed to be providing accountability within the agency itself,” said Douglas Cox, a City University of New York School of Law professor who specializes in tracking the preservation of federal records. “It makes you wonder what was going on over there?”

The incident was privately disclosed to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department last summer, the sources said. But the destruction of a copy of the sensitive report has never been made public. Nor was it reported to the federal judge who, at the time, was overseeing a lawsuit seeking access to the still classified document under the Freedom of Information Act, according to a review of court files in the case.

A CIA spokesman, while not publicly commenting on the circumstances of the erasure, emphasized that another unopened computer disk with the full report has been, and still is, locked in a vault at agency headquarters. “I can assure you that the CIA has retained a copy,” wrote Dean Boyd, the agency’s chief of public affairs, in an email.

The 6,700-page report, the product of years of work by the Senate Intelligence Committee, contains meticulous details, including original CIA cables and memos, on the agency’s use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other aggressive interrogation methods at “black site” prisons overseas. A 500-page executive summary was released in December 2014 by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s outgoing chair. It concluded that the CIA’s interrogations were far more brutal than the agency had publicly acknowledged and produced often unreliable intelligence. The findings drew sharp dissents from Republicans on the panel and from four former CIA directors.

But the full three-volume report, which formed the basis for the executive summary, has never been released. In light of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling last week that the document is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, there are new questions about whether it will ever be made public, or even be preserved.

After receiving inquiries from Yahoo News, Feinstein, now the vice chair of the committee,wrote CIA Director John Brennan last Friday night asking him to “immediately” provide a new copy of the full report to the inspector general’s office.

“Your prompt response will allay my concern that this was more than an ‘accident,’” Feinstein wrote, adding that the full report includes “extensive information directly related to the IG’s ongoing oversight of the CIA.” (CIA spokesman Boyd declined to comment.)

The incident is the latest twist in the ongoing battle over the report, and comes in the midst of a charged political debate over torture. Likely Republican Party nominee Donald Trump has vowed to resume such methods — “and a lot more” — in the war against the Islamic State. “I love it, I love it,” Trump recently said, describing his views on waterboarding. “The only thing is, we should make it much tougher than waterboarding.” )

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The CIA allegedly tortured two terror suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, in its secret facility in Poland. Shown here in this 2005 photo is a watchtower near the Polish intelligence school just outside of Stare Kiejkuty, Poland. Ironically in light of the inspector general’s actions, the intelligence committee’s investigation was triggered by the CIA’s admission in 2007 that it had destroyed another key piece of evidence — hours of videotapes of the waterboarding of two “high value” detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

According to a brief by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is seeking release of the full report under the Freedom of Information Act, the document “describes widespread and horrific human rights abuses by the CIA” and details the agency’s “evasions and misrepresentations” to Congress, the courts and the public.

To ensure the document was circulated widely within the government, and to preserve it for future declassification, Feinstein, in her closing days as chair, instructed that computer disks containing the full report be sent to the CIA and its inspector general, as well as the other U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Aides said Feinstein specifically included a separate copy for the CIA inspector general because she wanted the office to undertake a full review. Her goal, as she wrote at the time, was to ensure “that the system of detention and interrogation described in this report is never repeated.”

But her successor, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, quickly asked for all of the disks to be returned, even threatening at one point to send a committee security officer to retrieve them. He contended the volumes are congressional records that were never intended for executive branch, much less public, distribution.

The administration, while not complying with Burr’s demand to return the disks, has essentially sided with him against releasing them to the public. Early last year, Justice lawyers instructed federal agencies to keep their copies of the document under lock and key, unopened, lest the courts treat them as government records subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Weeks later, in an effort to head off a motion for “emergency relief” by the ACLU, a Justice Department lawyer told U.S. Judge James Boasberg that no copies of the report would be returned to Congress or destroyed; the government “can assure the Court that it will preserve the status quo” until the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was resolved, wrote Vesper Mei, a senior counsel in the Justice Department’s civil division, in a February 2015 filing.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein discusses a newly released Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s antiterrorism tactics on Capitol Hill in December 2014. (Photo: Senate TV/Reuters)

But last August, a chagrined Christopher R. Sharpley, the CIA’s acting inspector general, alerted the Senate intelligence panel that his office’s copy of the report had vanished. According to sources familiar with Sharpley’s account, he explained it this way: When it received its disk, the inspector general’s office uploaded the contents onto its internal classified computer system and destroyed the disk in what Sharpley described as “the normal course of business.” Meanwhile someone in the IG office interpreted the Justice Department’s instructions not to open the file to mean it should be deleted from the server — so that both the original and the copy were gone.

At some point, it is not clear when, after being informed by CIA general counsel Caroline Krass that the Justice Department wanted all copies of the document preserved, officials in the inspector general’s office undertook a search to find its copy of the report. They discovered, “S***, we don’t have one,” said one of the sources briefed on Sharpley’s account.

Sharpley was apologetic about the destruction and promised to ask CIA director Brennan for another copy. But as of last week, he seems not to have received it; after Yahoo News began asking about the matter, he called intelligence committee staffers to ask if he could get a new copy from them.

Sharpley also told Senate committee aides he had reported the destruction of the disk to the CIA’s general counsel’s office, and Krass passed that information along to the Justice Department. But there is no record in court filings that department lawyers ever informed the judge overseeing the case that the inspector general’s office had destroyed its copy of the report.

The episode was viewed among intelligence committee aides as another embarrassment for the inspector general’s office. Months earlier, a CIA accountability board had overruled the IG’s findings that agency officials had improperly searched computers used by Senate investigators working on the report. Sharpley has been serving as acting inspector general since his predecessor, David Buckley, resigned in January 2015. The White House has yet to nominate a successor.

A Justice Department spokesman said on Friday that, since the inspector general’s office is, by statute, a “unit” of the CIA, and the agency still had its copy, “the status quo … was preserved.” But Feinstein, in a separate letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch last Friday, took a different view: She asked that the Justice Department “notify the federal courts” involved in the Freedom of Information Act litigation about the destruction.

At issue in the ongoing legal dispute is whether the report is subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The administration says no, and a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals last week agreed, ruling that it is a congressional document not subject to FOIA, under the terms of a 2009 letter by which the Senate panel had received access to CIA files. The judges did write, however, that the executive branch does have “some discretion to use the full report for internal purposes.” The ACLU said on Friday it was “considering our options for appeal”; CIA spokesman Boyd said the agency’s copy of the report would be retained “pending the final result of the litigation.” But he pointedly made no mention of what would happen to the CIA’s copy of the report after that.



In the meantime, Feinstein, joined by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, has taken a different route, petitioning David S. Ferriero, the chief of the National Archives, to formally declare the report a “federal record” that must be preserved “in the public interest” under a law known as the Federal Records Act.

In a letter last month, the senators expressed concerns that federal agencies might destroy their copies of the report. “No part of the executive branch has ruled out destroying or sending back the full report to Congress after the conclusion of the current FOIA litigation,” they wrote in an April 13, 2016,     letter. A similar point was raised by more than 30 advocacy groups who noted in a separate letter to Ferriero last month that the archivist had a duty to act whenever there was a threat that government records are at risk of “unauthorized destruction.”

Ferriero on April 29 wrote back to Feinstein that he would not rule on the question until the FOIA court case is concluded. And last week, Burr renewed his call to have all copies of the report sent back — presumably a way to ensure they are never publicly released. Citing the new Court of Appeals ruling, “Sen. Burr anticipates the return of these full reports to the Senate Intelligence Committee,” a spokeswoman said.

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Danny F. Quest, is an artist, blogger, journalist, and media personality. Co. Founder of and author of “120 characters or less’ the guide to winning a debate in the digital age”. Danny now works as a Freelance journalist and graphic designer for Danny’s next big project is “30 days in Gaza” a documentary bringing light to the current conditions of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation.

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