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The Pot Plank and Presidential Politics

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The Marijuana Policy Project came out with its report card for 22 presidential candidates and hopefuls this week and the headline is that no one is sticking their neck out very far when it comes to the legalization of marijuana or the loosening of federal pot laws. Admittedly, this is not the biggest issue on anyone’s presidential platform but as more states jump on the bandwagon, voters will be demanding a pot plank as the 2016 race gets underway.

Republican Rand Paul stands out in the crowd for supporting the rights of states to establish marijuana policy and also for being a voice for decriminalization, legalized medical marijuana and access to banks for marijuana businesses. The MPP voter guide sends him to the head of the presidential class with an A-. On the other hand, the MPP gives Republicans Chris Christie and Rick Santorum an F for saying they will enforce federal laws to crack down on states that have charted their own course in legalizing pot.

Democrats Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb are taking a wait and see approach to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado and other states. They get B grades from the MPP. Republican Rick Perry also gets a B for supporting state rights to establish their own policies and working to reduce pot penalties in his home state of Texas.

Republicans Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina get C+ grades for accepting the right of states to create their own policies despite opposing the legalization of the drug for any kind of use. New York Republican George Pataki, who also opposes legalizing marijuana for all purposes, still gets a C for saying he’ll keep the federal government from interfering with states that vote to legalize pot, as long as it stays away from kids and doesn’t upset neighboring states. Republicans Donald Trump and Lindsay Graham get C’s for supporting only medical marijuana. Republican Bobby Jindal gets a C- for only supporting limited medical marijuana and would be candidate John Kasich gets a C- for not even supporting that.

Continuing the “gateway drug” narrative has earned Democrats Martin O’Malley and Joe Biden a C- and D respectively. Republicans Scott Walker and Ben Carson also get D grades for not giving up on the theory. Florida Republicans Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Arkansas Republican Mike Huckabee, who oppose the legalization of marijuana for any purpose, get D’s as well.

According to Marijuana Policy Poject Communications Director Mason Tvert “voters should know which candidates support rolling back prohibition and which ones are fighting to maintain it. People are becoming increasingly wary of the federal government’s role in our nation’s marijuana policy.” Indeed, the disconnect between state and federal laws has been one of the biggest challenges dogging the young industry. “If states are to be our nation’s laboratories of democracy, our next president needs to respect their right to experiment,” Tvert said. “They should be committed to basing marijuana laws on science and evidence instead of ideology and politics.”

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Fear and Loathing in West Texas

Carol McKinley of HDNet's World Report speaking to young construction worker from the FLDS in San Angelo, Texas.

Just returned from San Angelo, Texas where reporter Carol McKinley and our crew worked on a story for HDNet’s World Report about the FLDS and how the polygamous fundamentalist Mormon sect is integrating into the local economy.  If you recall, members of the FLDS picked up in 2004 and left their homes in Utah to relocate to Eldorado, Texas.  They built a huge compound and the population has been steadily growing.  In 2008, there was a highly publicized raid where their children were removed because of allegations of child sexual abuse.  Some “Saints” are in jail and Warren Jeffs, their prophet and leader, has been extradited to Texas to face charges of aggravated sexual assault.  His trial is now scheduled to begin in July.

All that is the back story.  The report we are doing is about how, despite the myriad of setbacks for the group, they are thriving in their new home, much to the frustration of many in the community.  A huge conflict is emerging in the construction industry.  Men in the FLDS are highly skilled in the construction trades and are getting a foothold in the workplace.  They are hired on residential and commercial projects.  They also work as subcontractors on city, state and federal construction jobs.  People in the community say FLDS men work for less because they aren’t paid comparably for labor, and there is no longer a level playing field in the trades.  In addition, they are outraged that people in the community would hire men who allegedly sexually abuse young girls.  Everyone in this small town has an opinion on this.

With that in mind we set out to tell the story and encountered a climate of fear from almost everyone we met.  Members of the San Angelo construction community who have spoken out against the FLDS told us about being intimidated.  Folks used the words “Mafia” and “extortion” when describing FLDS tactics.  Almost everyone was afraid to go on camera because they worried they would be sued by FLDS lawyers. They believed they would also be threatened or lose their customers and livelihood.  Big burly construction workers would fill our ear with their stories off camera, but few would go on the record.  It took alot of calls to finally convince a couple people to speak out.  They did so with great trepidation.

On the other hand, the FLDS would scatter almost every time we showed up to videotape.  It was like playing hide and seek.  One builder who has a great relationship with FLDS workers and sings their praises spoke to us, but when we went to find his men on the job that day they were gone.  He was stunned that they would flee.  The only explanation, an email saying that we had been poking around Eldorado and he should not talk to the media, that no good could possibly come of that.  Over the course of our trip we repeatedly tried to catch his FLDS subcontractors at work to get video, but almost every time they heard we were in the area they took off.  It seemed they had a sophisticated communication network which tracked our movements and knew when we would be where.  Three young men spoke to us when we caught them by surprise, but you could feel their palpable anxiety.  We believe a couple even gave us fake names.  They could not have been more kind and polite and you wonder why members are so secretive rather than speaking and helping to foster communication and understanding.

Despite the difficulties in San Angelo, we have a very strong story about the fundamentalist Mormon culture and how they are moving forward in the economy.  Many who have spent their lives in West Texas worry aloud that the FLDS will take over.  It’s a culture clash of the first order.  Carol and the crew also visited Short Creek, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints settlement on the border between Utah and Arizona, that was settled almost a century ago.  Much to her surprise the FLDS is building a mansion for prophet Warren Jeffs in anticipation of his triumphant return when his Texas troubles are over.  Watch for more on HDNet’s World Report on Tuesday, February 8th.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Hurricane Season

William Gray, Phillip Klotzbach and their forecasters at Colorado State University have come out with their predictions for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season which runs from June 1 to November 30.  It’s expected to be active with three hurricanes becoming major Category 3 storms.  In the press release they remark, “NOAA’s National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center says there is a 70 percent chance of having nine to 14 named storms,  four to seven of which could become hurricanes, and one to three major hurricanes (winds 115mph or greater). If this comes to pass, these numbers would reflect an average number and intensity of tropical cyclones.”

Over the last years there have been extremely powerful hurricanes that have made landfall in the United States including Rita, Wilma and the apocalyptic Katrina which struck New Orleans during the deadly season of 2005.  Hurricane Ivan was the strongest hurricane of the season in 2004.  It wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and at one point was a Category 5 storm the size of Texas.

Hurricane Ivan approaches Key West

Hurricane Ivan approaches Key West

Correspondent Martin Savidge, the crew and I were dispatched to Key West, Florida to cover the storm for NBC News.  Driving 100 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico there was great tension as the storm approached, even more so than in other storms I have chased.  Traveling out to Key West that day I realized we were there to stay.  Once the winds started howling and the water started rising there would be absolutely no way to get off the remote key.  At one point forecasters predicted a direct hit on the low lying island.  A bullseye would put Key West under water.  When we checked into the hotel we had to sign a form saying we understood the risks and knew we were taking our lives in our own hands.  Even for seasoned hurricane chasers there was a feeling of approaching danger.  It rained like hell but at the end of the day Ivan skirted the island and saved its wrath for Gulf Shores, Alabama where it hit as a Category 3.  Once the storm passed by Key West there was a palpable sense of relief on the island.  Those who didn’t evacuate and hunkered down came out into the light and crowded into the bars.  Key West, which was all boarded up, returned to its merry ways.  I took this picture of a man who told me his name was Ca$h.  To me he epitomized the care free ebullience that returned to Key West, Florida after it was spared by Hurricane Ivan.  I have received more comments on this photo than any other I have taken.  I smile whenever I think of Ca$h.     

Ca$h in Key West, Florida

Ca$h in Key West, Florida

For more information about Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.