Sunday, March 28, 2021

Last Call For Cuomo's Mary Jane Moment

Maybe I'm just a cynical bastard, but it seems to me that embattled NY Dem Go.v Andrew Cuomo, now facing more than a half-dozen sexual assault allegations from current and former staffers, is trying to buy his way out of impeachment through a major new marijuana legalization deal, something he's resisted for years now.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers formally announced a final deal on legislation to legalize marijuana in New York State late Saturday night.

The bill—called the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act—would permit adults 21 and over to purchase marijuana, grow the plant in their home, and divert funds to education and drug treatment.

It would also create a cannabis management office and a regulatory framework that would cover adult-use, medical marijuana, and cannabinoid hemp, the latter which includes CBD products. (Existing medical and cannabinoid hemp products programs would be expanded under the legislation.) A social and economic equity aspect of the bill aims to help people harmed by marijuana prohibition enforcement get into the upcoming business.

"For generations, too many New Yorkers have been unfairly penalized for the use and sale of adult-use cannabis, arbitrarily arrested and jailed with harsh mandatory minimum sentences," Cuomo said in a statement. "After years of tireless advocacy and extraordinarily hard work, that time is coming to an end in New York State."

The governor's office says the adult-use program is expected to bring in $350 million in taxes each year as well as create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs statewide. Retail sales of marijuana would include a state sales tax of 9%. Localities' sales tax would be 4%, with counties getting one-quarter of tax revenue and three-quarters would go to the municipality.

Under the bill, 40% of the revenues would go towards education, 40% to community reinvestment grants to communities harmed by criminalization of drugs, and 20% to drug treatment and public education programs.

Lawmakers are expected to pass the bill this coming week, after hammering out an agreement with Cuomo late last week.

One of the legislation's sponsors, Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger, said in a statement, "My goal in carrying this legislation has always been to end the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana prohibition that has taken such a toll on communities of color across our state, and to use the economic windfall of legalization to help heal and repair those same communities."

She added, "I believe we have achieved that in this bill, as well as addressing the concerns and input of stakeholders across the board. When this bill becomes law, New York will be poised to implement a nation-leading model for what marijuana legalization can look like.


I'm not questioning the legislation, in too many states with marijuana legislation, it continues to punish Black and brown folk and freezes them out of yet another business opportunity in favor of white-owned business investors who only see dollar signs. The criminal justice reform elements are definitely here in New York's proposed legislation. Colorado, Ohio, and even California need to take notice.

What I'm questioning is the timing.

If this is part of an unspoken deal to look the other way on the voluminous allegations against Cuomo, it's eventually going to come to light, and it's going to be the end of Democrats in New York. If Republicans in the state were even remotely sentient, they'd make that accusation straight away.

That needs to be investigated by Tish James in the AG's office. This is some dank weed, indeed.

Retribution Execution, Con't

Georgia Republican and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refused to let Trump steal the state's election and has been number one on Trump's list of "traitors" for a while now. His political future is basically nil and all indications are he'll be primaried out well before his November 2022 reelection.
He's already been removed as the state's chief election official by last week's omnibus Jim Crow voter suppression package, and Georgia Republicans are making sure that no Democrat ever wins again in the state, and that means never again allowing elected officials to objectively run elections in Georgia, but making sure the GOP state legislature does.

It is a remarkable turn of events for a conventional Republican politician whose down-ballot election in 2018 went largely unnoticed outside his own state. Yet after refusing to buckle to Donald Trump’s requests to change the state’s vote count and feuding with Trump over the former president’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, Raffensperger’s reelection campaign is unfolding, improbably, as one of the most consequential of the election cycle — with implications for the GOP in every state and at all levels of government.

Jason Shepherd, the chair of the Republican Party in Cobb County, Georgia, said he has friends who are “completely uninvolved in politics” who tell him “there is no way they are going to vote to reelect Raffensperger.”

That sentiment, he said, is coming from “the type of person you’re almost surprised they know the name of the secretary of state.”

“I don’t want to say there’s zero chance, but at this point right now, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone in the party who supports the reelection of [Raffensperger],” he said.

Raffensperger still has more than a year to turn it around. But he is running up against the heavy weight of GOP’s election fraud orthodoxy. Earlier this week, Rep. Jody Hice, a defender of Trump’s effort to overturn the election, announced he’s running with Trump’s endorsement to unseat Raffensperger. And the Georgia Republican Party isn’t exactly sitting on the sidelines.

The state executive committee publicly called this week on Raffensperger to repudiate his staff for misquoting Trump’s words in a December phone call in which Trump urged a Georgia elections official to find “dishonesty” in the vote in an attempt to reverse the election results.

The party said Raffensperger has “dodged repeated attempts” by committee members to discuss the issue with him.

Closer to home, Raffensperger failed this past weekend to get Republicans in his own precinct to elect him as a delegate to his county’s upcoming Republican Party convention, said Stewart Bragg, executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. After Raffensperger wrote a letter asking to be elected, no one at the precinct meeting moved to nominate him, Bragg said.

In a statement, the chair of the Fulton County Republican Party, Trey Kelly, said he was unaware of any letter from Raffensperger, adding that, “like many others who did not attend Saturday, he was not added to the delegate or alternate list for the county convention.” A person close to Raffensperger also denied that he sent a letter seeking election.

His representatives otherwise declined to comment for this story, pointing to Raffensperger’s past public statements.

Raffensperger's official responsibilities have also been targeted by Republicans in the state. On Thursday, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law, signed by Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, that removes the secretary of state as the state election board chair — to be replaced by a person approved by the state legislature.

The law, in effect, hands control of the five-person board over to the state legislature: Two other members on the board are picked by the respective legislative chambers. The law also gives the state election board the ability to suspend county election officials, who are replaced by an individual picked by the board.

Raffensperger is not without a fan base. In fact, he’s the most popular Republican in Georgia, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in January — even more than Kemp or Trump.

But that feat is in large part because Raffensperger is admired by Democrats, who viewed him as a truth-telling, elections administration equivalent of Dr. Anthony Fauci after the November vote. Nearly 45 percent of Republicans in the state disapprove of Raffensperger’s performance, according to the poll.

Raffensperger has been a focal point for Trump and his supporters since shortly after the presidential election. Even as early as November, he said he was preparing for a primary challenge because of how angry some in the state may be with him.

In an election cycle where secretary of state races are likely to get a near-unprecedented amount of attention, Georgia’s may be the most competitive. Not only is Raffensperger facing a Trump-backed primary challenger, Democrats will be gunning for the office in 2022 as well, enraged by the Republicans in the legislature pushing through bills that will restrict voter access to the polls and emboldened by the party’s successes in the state’s last election.
Don't feel sorry for Raffensperger. He literally did the bare minimum of his job as a Republican, and he's still a Republican. Like all of them, they need to go.

Sunday Long Read: Insur-(Rocky) Mount-able Differences

The revitalization of Rocky Mount, North Carolina is typical of many small towns in the Old North State, like where I grew up. The textile mills and tobacco farms are long gone, but the city's long history of racial division remains, and while the area is getting a huge investment boost, it's only going to certain areas of town, as The Assembly's Katie Jane Fernelius reports.

It was a mill town, a tobacco town, and a railroad town. But as the new millennium loomed, it was a dying town.

“The severe textile slump has done what the Yankee soldiers could not: forced the closing of the South’s oldest textile company,” wrote The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A grand building on the banks of the Tar River, Rocky Mount Mills had been twice burned down and twice rebuilt. But by 1996, it closed—a casualty, some claimed, of NAFTA.

The tobacco companies were next. In 1998, the industry that had made the town a city 100 years earlier finally heard its death knell as a group of major tobacco companies surrendered to the throng of state attorney generals and entered into the Master Settlement Agreement, which obligated the companies to pay over $200 billion in damages.

Then in 1999, there was Hurricane Floyd. The storm tore through a region still recovering from a tropical storm that had hit just 10 days prior, flooding the Tar River and submerging the city. According to some estimates, 4,000 housing units were destroyed. Dozens died.

The industrial exoskeleton of the city barely remained intact.

“The main business corridors in Rocky Mount soaked for days in several feet of brown water,” reported one newspaper, a year after the storm. “Decades of work spent building the communities were washed away in a single event.”

That was then. To read about Rocky Mount today is to read about a city on the eve of its debutante, with tire manufacturers, freight companies, and even the DMV all flocking to the city and committing to new manufacturing plants, cargo terminals, or headquarters there.

In 2019, Forbes listed the city as one of the best “small places” to do business. Last year, PBS NC profiled its historic preservation and revitalization. WRAL-TV lauded the city’s craft brewery incubator and tiny-home hotel.

When the Goodmon family-run Capitol Broadcasting Company purchased Rocky Mount Mills to repurpose it as a mixed-use complex, the Urban Land Institute wrote that the investment would turn the city “into a destination for millennials ... ultimately shifting the fortunes of the eastern North Carolina town of Rocky Mount."

It’s a familiar story for CBC, whose massive investment in Durham’s American Tobacco Campus helped convert the vestiges of the city’s industrial economy into a charming and nostalgic backdrop for trendy, modern living.

Some might call this revitalization. Others might call it gentrification. What cannot be denied is that Rocky Mount—a city Forbes listed just 12 years ago as among the country’s 10 most impoverished––is now the center of a well-financed campaign for its revival.

This would be a relatively straightforward story about a resurgent city finding its stride. But Rocky Mount isn’t a city united. Two Main Streets run downtown, separated by railroad tracks that divide the city and demarcate the boundary between its twin counties. To the west, majority-white Nash County and to the east, majority-Black Edgecombe County.

A fall from prosperity, the potential of a renaissance, all on a foundation of deep racial divisions––that’s the challenge ahead for Rocky Mount. And on the ground, there are widely different views about just how insurmountable those difficulties are
On the Nash County side, everything is great. On the Edgecombe County side, well. 

And if this isn't the story of America, I don't know what is.

Meanwhile In Myanmar...

The death toll in Myanmar as the military junta government cracked down on protests this weekend has risen to at least 114 as soldiers have shot civilians in cold blood in dozens of cities and towns.

Local media in Myanmar say security forces killed at least 114 civilians in 40 cities and towns on Saturday, in what appears to be the deadliest day of protests since the coup last month.

The brutal crackdown came as the military marked the annual Armed Forces Day holiday. In a televised speech in the capital, Naypyitaw, coup leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing continued to justify the coup by accusing the government of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi of failing to investigate the military's accusations of voter fraud in the November general election — which saw Suu Kyi's party win in a landslide.

Min Aung Hlaing addressed the ongoing protests against the military indirectly — denouncing demonstrations against the coup as "terrorism" that is "harmful to state tranquility." The general promised fresh elections, but did not provide details on when a new vote would be held.

The deaths of 114 protesters on Saturday comes in addition to the 328 killed by the junta since the coup, according to figures released Friday by the activist group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. AAPR notes that around a quarter of those killed died from shots to the head, which the group says raises concerns that demonstrators are being targeted for killing. In addition to the dead, more than 3,000 demonstrators have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the start of the coup, according to AAPR.

As violence continues to escalate, so too do fears that armed groups who oppose the military coup are positioning themselves to join the fray.

"The Myanmar Armed Forces Day isn't an armed forces day, it's more like the day they killed people," said Gen. Yawd Serk, chair of one of Myanmar's ethnic armies, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South, in an interview with Reuters. "If they continue to shoot at protesters and bully the people, I think all the ethnic groups would not just stand by and do nothing."

In a statement on Twitter, the U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar, Thomas L. Vajda, denounced what he described as "horrifying" bloodshed and called for "an immediate end to the violence and the restoration of the democratically elected government."

"These are not the actions of a professional military or police force," Vajda said. "Myanmar's people have spoken clearly: they do not want to live under military rule."

The European Union, which earlier this week sanctioned 11 people in relation to the coup, called the killing of unarmed civilians — including children — "indefensible" in a post on Twitter. "This 76th Myanmar armed forces day will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour," wrote the bloc's delegation to the country.
Myanmar - Burma -- is what would be happening here if Trump's cultists had been successful on January 6th only instead of dozens killed, it would be thousands. They came distressingly close.

And Myanmar does need the world's help.

We'll see if anyone can step up.
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