California doubled down on its green economy Wednesday as the legislature passed a pair of bills that set ambitious new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The new goals are being hailed by environmentalists for providing the certainty needed to ramp up clean-tech investment. Governor Jerry Brown announced in a press conference that opponents of the new targets were “vanquished.” Indeed, there had hardly been a squeak from the oil industry or anyone else.
Maybe that’s because the cap-and-trade exchange that allows heavy polluters to mitigate their damage by purchasing emission credits, and which is one of the state’s most embattled emission-reduction programs, got kicked down the road. All summer the new emissions goals were embroiled in intense negotiations centered on cap-and-trade — talks that included the legislature, the governor and representatives of Big Oil and other heavy industries. Industry wants certainty about buying into the exchange, which has suffered from low participation in its auctions and is the subject of a lawsuit by the state Chamber of Commerce, and many programs seemed to be on the table.
Capital & Main reported in July on the tumultuous and confusing signals coming from the governor’s office, which seemed to indicate that Brown was not only desperate to pass Senate Bill 32, but that he was also trying to strike a grand bargain with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and other trade groups to save the cap-and-trade program. This led many to speculate in background conversations that the state might have to sacrifice one of its nation-leading emission-reduction programs. SB 32 is a linchpin of state climate strategy, as it codifies the governor’s former executive order to ratchet up greenhouse gas reduction goals from 1990 levels by 2020 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
The negotiations were colored by bruising battles in 2015, when moderate Democrats helped block SB 32 and stripped a provision to reduce gasoline use out of another key bill, SB 350, that increased the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to require 50 percent clean-energy usage by 2030.
And then SB 32 sailed through. Have we entered a new era of climate change cooperation? Is somebody keeping their powder dry for bigger battles still to come over state cap-and-trade or other programs? Were foes truly “vanquished?”
Part of the answer is that SB 32 was tied to another measure, Assembly Bill 197, which was designed to quell the fears of the moderate Democrats. Each bill required passage of the other.
AB 197 was authored by former SB 32-doubting freshman Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella). Garcia, like many legislators and public interest groups, was concerned that high-profile emission-reduction programs did little to address the effects of climate change in the hardest-hit communities, such as neighborhoods next to refineries or ports or farming regions, where air quality is often the worst. Cap-and-trade, for instance, allows big polluters to pollute as long as they pay for credits or offsets purchased in other parts of the state or country. AB 197 requires that the California Air Resources Board, which directs implementation of emission-reduction programs, should target direct reductions at both stationary and mobile sources in those communities. Such direct reductions are bitterly opposed by oil interests and heavy industry.
The bill also restricts CARB board members to six-year terms, which can be repeated, creates a joint legislative oversight committee made up of three Senators and three Assemblymembers to make recommendations about CARB programs to the legislature, and places two legislators in nonvoting, ex-officio positions on the air board to increase legislative understanding and input into the board’s work. Evidently this was enough to smooth the waters.
“I can’t say anything’s ever smooth with regard to climate policy!” laughs Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director for Air Quality and Climate Change at the American Lung Association. “A lot of legislators want to understand more of what’s happening at the Air Resources Board, and they feel a little more comfortable with Eddie Garcia, that there is provision for more oversight, for engagement, for input from legislative voices. That does provide a lot of reassurance.”
When SB 32 was introduced in 2015, many newer legislators were fuzzy on how it actually worked and now understand it better. The bill has also taken a few serious hits: A provision requiring emission reductions to 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 was stripped out of the bill by amendments.
“If you look at all of it – the education that’s happened between last year and this, scaling back the bill, and then the companion legislation [AB 197] – I think that all helped,” said Mike Mielke, Senior Vice President for Environment and Energy, at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy group representing tech industries.
With the addition of the two legislative non-voting board members, the state legislature will now have control of four seats on CARB, which expands to 16 seats from being only 12 seats a year ago. A 2015 bill by then-Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) added two legislature-appointed seats to represent environmental justice concerns, which were filled in February by former state Senator Dean Florez from the Central Valley and Diane Takvorian of Environmental Health Coalition, which is based in the San Diego/Tijuana area.
Will this big board or any of the other changes hamper the ability of CARB to carry out its mandate?
“I don’t think it hurts it,” says Bill Magavern, policy director at Coalition for Clean Air. “It’s a substantial expansion, so there may be some growing pains there. But CARB and the legislature have to continue to try to understand each other better. Because I hear a lot of criticisms from legislators that are just uninformed…. CARB needs to do a better job of explaining its programs and its processes to the legislature.”
All of this, however, still leaves questions as to what will happen to cap-and-trade and what kind of talks Gov. Brown really had with the oil industry. In July his office acknowledged being in direct talks with the WSPA to find a way forward past 2020, when both the emission-reduction targets of AB 32 and the state’s cap-and-trade program were set to expire. He was openly seeking a way to create a bill with two-thirds supermajority support that would head off the need to reauthorize the cap-and-trade program, in particular. In fact, the governor submitted draft language for SB 32 to address this issue, although it was not incorporated into the bill.
As one close observer speaking on background characterized the talks, the governor and Big Oil went in trying to reach an agreement on cap-and-trade – which proved impossible to get – and they came out instead with “just cap.” The governor’s office helped shape AB 197 and, with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) throwing his back into this climate package, setting a new cap became doable. So they skipped cap-and-trade for now.
The WSPA, which did not respond to interview requests, issued a statement Tuesday by President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, after SB 32’s passage, claiming the legislature had really ducked the issue:
“AB 197 also does not address fundamental cap-and-trade issues that SB 32 conveniently dodges. In fact, it goes in the opposite direction by promoting a command-and-control system that is contrary to a market-based mechanism like cap-and-trade and would further undermine the market. Despite today’s symbolic victory for some, we will continue to do the real work required to make the appropriate fixes to cap-and-trade that can send the market real certainty.”
Cap-and-trade has been under attack because of recent anemic auctions of its pollution credits – the latest poor auction results, held last week, were announced on Tuesday, as SB 32 passed. Uncertainty about the program has caused electric utilities and other industries who participate in those auctions to hold back on purchases. Several public interest representatives speaking on condition of anonymity expressed fear that heavy industry might embrace cap-and-trade in exchange for softening or even eliminating programs like the state’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standards, which mandate use of such alternative fuels as ethanol, and of lower-carbon fuels like natural gas rather than petroleum. But that didn’t happen.
Cap-and-trade has also been a lightning rod for other reasons: Funds it has generated, which are being used to develop high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco among other projects, have been the subject of a four-year-old lawsuit brought by the California Chamber of Commerce, which calls the purchases a tax.
“This sort of uncertainty is never good for business,” said Alex Jackson, legal director of the California Climate Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s what’s really at stake [with the passage of SB 32]: California’s climate policies writ large do not rest on one piece of legislation or one target, but this sort of legislation lifts all boats, and it sends a clear economy-wide signal that California remains committed to its path to clean energy.”
Mike Mielke of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group notes there are two reasons why SB 32 is essential. “A, because it’s the right thing to do, and B, because [clean tech] is a larger and larger part of the state’s economy and it’s a larger and larger part of the Silicon Valley economy.”
California’s green economy has been credited with creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the state, including high-quality skilled positions that have brought labor union support to climate targets like those set out in SB 32.
Mielke chastised the media for often portraying “business” as standing opposed to environmentalism. “Some businesses, like heavy manufacturing and the oil industry, don’t care for this, but a lot of other businesses, like the ones that make up the majority of our membership, do. Silicon Valley is a valley of scientists and engineers. They see this as a problem to be solved, and a challenge to be addressed, and a way, honestly, to make money and create jobs.”
Governor Brown is signaling very clearly that he intends to fight for every emission-reduction tool available, although California will have to wait for the next round of auctions to see whether the strong signal of new carbon-reduction targets drives participants into the carbon markets.
“Now is really not the time for us to back off, when the world is watching, and when we have seen that these programs are working, both for the impact they’re having on our air quality and therefore our health, as well as the positive impact on our economy,” said Sandra Fluke, California State Director of Voices for Progress. “We do have to remember that, aside from revenues produced by the cap-and-trade auctions, which are important … the point of cap and trade is to lower greenhouse gas emissions. And that is working very successfully.”
For Tommy Chong to get straight, he's got to go to God. Not God as envisioned by, say, Jerry Falwell, not the God of hellfire, but the omniscient source of goodness and, yes, jokes. He's cultivated a meditative practice over the years of smash hit movies, Grammy-winning comedy albums, and woozy influence over decades of pop culture as half of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong. So when he was busted in 2003 for selling Tommy Chong bongs and sentenced to nine months in the federal penitentiary at Taft, California, one of the items he brought with him was the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes.
While in prison, he started ruminating on life's lessons, and the result was his new book, "The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint." This book is a breezy vision of the man's essential "Chongness," as he writes not some preachy life lessons but about a life lived: growing up rough as the mixed-race child of a Chinese father and a Scottish-Irish mother in Western Canada; learning to tango with his wife, Shelby; and using his gentleness and wit to thrive in lock-up. "I met the warden one day. I swear to God, I've met fans but he was one of the biggest fans ever," says Chong. "He says, 'Are they treating you OK?' He turned out to be a really sweet guy."
DEAN KUIPERS: Each chapter leaf in the book starts with a hexagram from the I Ching.
TOMMY CHONG: I went through the I Ching and just picked out a heading that would best suit the chapter. And the I Ching -- I was just doing it -- it's three lines on top, three lines below. And they're either broken or straight. And it's based on an ancient book called the Book of Changes. You throw them -- they used to do it with bones, but then they evolved it to coins, and they used to do it with yarrow stalks [a common, long-stemmed white flower]. What you get is a good sense of how you're feeling, where you're at in your life.
KUIPERS: How is this a book of meditations?
CHONG: I'm a writer, I just write all the time. I hadn't planned it to be a book, I just have a compulsion. I tried to write a Cheech & Chong book, and I've been working on it for five years, and I just can't get it going. But this new book was so personal that, when I started writing it, I realized: no one knows who I am. So I started writing about who I am, and I picked out memories from my past and then I realized, damn, I'm almost 70 years old, so I've got a lot of memories.
KUIPERS: And those are meditative?
CHONG: Well, I'm into meditation. Actually, Cheech turned me on to meditation. When I first met Cheech, he followed that guru from India [Maharishi Mahesh Yogi]. Every once in a while I'd go over to meet with Cheech, and he'd be meditating. It wasn't 'til years and years later that I read a book by Joel Goldsmith, The Mystical I, and he went into the depth of meditating with your mind on God. And so when I went into prison, I thought: well, this is the best place in the world to put meditation to work.
KUIPERS: What was your meditative practice in prison?
CHONG: I ended up being the go-to guy with the I Ching. You have a lot of time in jail, so I read about how they did it with the yarrow stalks, and yarrow stalks were growing in the Indian garden at the prison. I did I Ching readings for the prisoners and it would blow people's minds. I was in a recreation room and I was throwing coins and doing mine and this guy, Mike, came up to me and he asked, "What are you up to, Chong?"
And I told him, and I said, "Do you want me to do your reading?" And he said "Sure." So I had him throw the coins, and when he read his reading, it blew his mind so bad he just handed me the book and he stayed the rest of the day on his bunk. I read his thing and it said that he had just suffered a terrible accident. And he had, like, a couple of months before, his wife and child were killed in a car accident coming up to see him. The book nailed it. And same with me, my first reading was, "You're in jail for a reason."
KUIPERS: Were you there for a reason?
CHONG: Yeah, absolutely. It was to reconnect with my spiritual self, with my job. The problem with me is that I've got this incredible ego, but I know that I was meant to do what I've been doing. From my earliest childhood, I knew I had something unfinished on this planet to do. And I got too comfortable in my life ... doing comedy, having a good time, collecting checks. And jail was like a little nudge, saying, "C'mon, let's get back to work."
KUIPERS: You went to prison for selling bongs, right?
CHONG: The official charge was "conspiring to sell drug paraphernalia over state lines." Supposedly, it was part of a nationwide sting, but everybody they busted is either back in business or going back in business.
KUIPERS: In the book you say that this is payback for all the movies, for laughing at cops, for Sergeant Stadanko.
CHONG: Yup. The Bush administration, Karl Rove, they just figure out who's got the media power. They mentioned that in the transcripts of the trial. They said that I had gotten rich, made millions of dollars off making movies about glorifying drug use and making fun of law enforcement.
KUIPERS: Well, that's true.
CHONG: Yeah, totally true. But it's also written in the Constitution that I have that right. And that shows you the extent of this administration, what outlaws they are. It's like the "weapons of mass destruction" reason to raid Iraq. It's the same mindset: they have an agenda and they will do anything to meet their goals.
KUIPERS: Do you view weed as kind of a sacrament?
CHONG: Yes, totally. It's a gift, and it's written that He gave us the seeds and the trees for our use. It's in, I forget which one, Genesis or something.
KUIPERS: Are you part of any church?
CHONG: No, I was never a member of any church. Now I'm a member of an Indian sweat lodge. That's my official church now. When we lived on a farm, the only entertainment was Sunday school. And then I ended up teaching Sunday school when I was really young, and then I went to bible camp when I was seven, eight years old. And it was an incredible experience because it was purely spiritual for me. And that's when I knew that I was somehow connected, because it all made sense at that age; I loved the praying, the singing, everything. That's how I got into show business: They used to put on little plays at that camp. It was the best two weeks of my life. And we would walk out into a field of clover and grass and sit down, and the teacher would tell us stories of Jesus, the beautiful stories. What really stayed with me is how to pray. You pray for wisdom, because if you've got wisdom you don't need nothing else.
KUIPERS: You mention in the book that you asked for wisdom and these stories are what happened.
CHONG: Exactly. That's how everything fell together. One of the guys, the Confucians or the Buddhists, they say when the pupil's ready, the teacher appears. And that's what happened to me. When I was standing there being sentenced to nine months in jail, in my mind I heard this phrase: "Thy will be done." When I was ready to do the book the editor appeared, the publisher appeared. Everything appears at the right time.
David Zeiger's new documentary film, Sir, No Sir!, captures one particular day in 1970 that the U.S. military establishment desperately wants you to forget. It was Armed Forces Day, and across the country, years of rising resistance to the war in Vietnam culminated in a nationwide anti-war protest by active military personnel that shut down planned celebrations at 28 U.S. bases. In fact, tens of thousands of GIs were involved in resistance to the Vietnam War, printing over 100 underground antiwar newspapers and coordinating their actions in a string of activist coffeehouses that sprung up near bases all across the country.
Today, however, that memory has been all but erased. And when Zeiger, an L.A.-based filmmaker, realized that soldiers speaking out about the Iraq War were being largely ignored because of military control of the war message, he felt he had to act. A former activist in the antiwar coffeehouse circuit, Zeiger found loads of footage about what was a big news story in the 1960s and '70s, showing that thousands of soldiers thought it their duty to speak out against war back then. He hopes to empower those who need to do so today.
Dean Kuipers: Was the GI movement against the Vietnam War not well known?
David Zeiger: Today, almost no one knows about it, but at the time, in fact, a lot of people did know about it. The demonstrations of GIs at Fort Hood for example - there were two demonstrations on Armed Forces Day, demonstrations in 1970 and 1971, that involved thousands of GIs -- those were covered by all the local media in Texas. Walter Cronkite did a two-part series on the GI underground press. But in the years since, what has happened is literally people's memories have been reshaped by the Reagan administration, which has been obviously carried over with the Bush administrations.
The politics were that the Vietnam War was a noble war fought bravely by soldiers who came home only to be spat on and vilified by selfish middle class hippies who condemned them for the war and who betrayed them. So the memory of what actually happened has been buried.
Kuipers: Was there an active campaign on the part of the DOD to try to scrub this out of memory?
Zeiger: The political agenda of erasing the GI movement from the memory of Vietnam was set by Reagan himself. He declared in that speech, "I will never send American troops again to a war that their government's not willing to win." And then, in the early '80s, was a campaign largely orchestrated by the Reagan administration to "honor the vet." This was around the time that the Vietnam memorial was built. This was very much the project of General Westmoreland, who had been the commander in Vietnam up until the Tet Offensive, and who was roundly hated by the troops, very similar to the role [U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld has today. The undercover political message was that they fought a good war. And if you say the war was not good then you're not honoring the vets.
Kuipers: But people who were against the war surely remember?
Zeiger: There's a lot of willingness -- even on the part of very progressive people -- to buy into that. The Presidio Mutiny was one of the biggest events of the San Francisco antiwar movement during that era -- there was actually one really bad Hollywood movie made about it. But books about Vietnam never mention it. Even the Vietnam history that was on PBS in the late '70s, early '80s doesn't say anything about it. These events have been literally, willfully written out. I got an e-mail from someone who said, "For years, I told people about this stuff and they thought I was crazy."
Kuipers: And soldiers used to publish underground newspapers?
Zeiger: They were coming out of bases, largely. A lot of people had access to mimeograph machines -- company clerks and whatever. When I worked at the Oleo Strut coffee house in Killeen, Texas, which was off Fort Hood, the civilians helped get the printer [to put out a paper called The Fatigue Press]. But all the articles were written by guys in the military and it was all laid out by them. Some of them had some staying power because they had a support base outside of the military. But others might come out with three or four issues and suddenly they got transferred or kicked out or jailed -- which also happened.
Kuipers: Were there consequences for GIs who did these things?
Zeiger: Absolutely. There's no actual law against publishing -- it's not in the Code of Military Justice -- but there's one catch-all regulation that you can't do anything that undermines good order and discipline in the military.
Kuipers: Were these coffeehouses and newspapers connected as a kind of network?
Zeiger: Yeah. It was mainly a fundraising network -- they weren't connected as a political organization. But there were a couple of national organizations that dedicated themselves to supporting the underground newspapers and coffeehouses at military bases. From about 1968 to 1971, they were very successful -- there were maybe 30 to 40 places that existed near military bases. Even in Saigon: the National Lawyers Guild had a military counseling office in Saigon for GIs who were charged with fragging, for GIs who had deserted, to provide whatever legal aide they could for those guys.
Kuipers: Why do this film now?
Zeiger: Iraq. It was the buildup and the invasion of Iraq that essentially made this story new and relevant again. I realized if I don't tell this story now, then after the Iraq War, it's definitely going to be too much in the past. It's cool to make a film that says nothing about the present but everyone sees it as a film about the present.
Kuipers: Is there a movement among the soldiers in the Iraq war to get us out of Iraq?
Zeiger: Absolutely. There have been more individuals who have refused to go to Iraq or refused to return to Iraq in the last couple of years than in the first few years of the Vietnam War. There are some very public cases. The one that is becoming a big case now is Lieutenant Ehren Watada. There's Sgt. Kevin Benderman, who's in prison now. There's Petty Officer Pablo Paredes down in San Diego. [Army Specialist] Katherine Jashinski. The fact that these soldiers are choosing to very publicly refuse and oppose the war is significant because they're setting themselves up for the worst kind of military retribution, which is not just putting you in prison but declaring that you're betraying your buddies.
This is how the military has re-shaped things to undercut an antiwar movement in the military. In Vietnam, you went in and out of the war as individuals. One of the things the military does now is they keep units together; you're there to protect yourself and your buddies.
Kuipers: Have you connected with that movement?
Zeiger: Yeah. Iraq Veterans Against the War Iraq Veterans Against the War, which was formed a couple of years ago on the first anniversary of the war, has been working very closely with the film and we've actually done a program with them of sending free DVD's of the film to anyone in the service who wants them.
Kuipers: Are soldiers aware of an antiwar movement and how it pertains to them?
Zeiger: I'm not sure how much debate there is going on inside the military about the nature of the war and the justness of it. I know that if you saw the film Occupation Dreamland, which was the second film about Iraq troops -- the one that came out after Gunner Palace -- it revealed the conflict that exists inside a unit of the 101st Airborne. It really showed that there's not the kind of monolithic unity that people think there is.
Kuipers: It's clear that soldiers have questions about their role. But do they have contact with solutions?
Zeiger: It's hard to know. One of the things that influenced a lot of troops in Vietnam was the Vietnamese people. There was a lot more freedom in Vietnam, as soldiers, to be out there among the people if they wanted to. That doesn't seem to be the case in Iraq.
David Rees never wanted to make political statements. He didn't even want to be a political cartoonist. In the days directly following September 11, when he was living in New York City, he just needed to hear an honest rendition of his country's internal dialogue about fear and war. As the media doggedly delivered a highly formalized and polarized debate about revenge, Rees listened to another line of discourse playing out in the white-collar offices where he worked as a temp, in the streets, in the music, and mostly in his own head. There he found horror, misunderstanding, hip-hop slang, and yes, jokes. There he found "Get Your War On."
Laughing at real-life horror like cluster-bombing Afghani children or floating bodies in New Orleans is bound to offend, and Get Your War On spares no one. The strip excoriates the Bush administration, the military, religious extremists of all stripes -- it has the audacity to laugh at death itself -- and exposes the apathy, fatigue, and bafflement experienced by almost every American. It has also become immensely popular, appearing exclusively in every issue of Rolling Stone and getting 25 million hits a year online.
Standing outside a lecture hall on the University of Southern California campus, where he's making an appearance for the Annenberg School for Communications, 33-year-old Rees looks like another junior professor -- grey tweed coat, the first touch of gray at the temples, a clutch of files in one hand. Since the strip spawned a series of three well-received books, Rees has done a lot of this. He knows the students are going to ask him about the global uproar over the Mohammed comics, and he's been thinking about that quite a bit himself.
"Since I became an atheist, I think any kind of restriction on picturing or making fun of or commenting on deities or prophets just rubs me the wrong way," says Rees, talking quickly, and seeming to figure out what he's going to say as he says it. Which, by the way, is one of the reasons he created his comic: to figure out how he felt about things.
He has decided that American newspapers should print the cartoons.
"I don't see why not," he says. "Seeing the cartoons kind of removes a level of mystery. It kinda deflates the issue, at least it did for me. 'Oh, these are just crappy cartoons, like mediocre cartoons.' I don't think you should necessarily publish photographs of victims of Janjawid rape in Sudan, or something. But I do think that to eliminate a layer of uncertainty and anxiety is useful in some way."
He also believes it is a test of our Constitutional civility. His own comic depends on it: Offensive speech is still protected speech in the United States.
"If they publish them in the United States, and you are an American Muslim, and you look at the cartoon and it drives you fucking bananas, you do just have to reconcile yourself: Are you comfortable living in a society where -- it's not like a tactful thing to do, or necessarily a sophisticated political critique -- but this is a country where you are allowed to do things like that."
Rees knows what it's like to get hate mail. He got a bunch of it when he started "Get Your War On," mostly from people enraged by his irreverent response to 9/11 and war, which was then isolated to Afghanistan. But he didn't get as much as he thought he would, and no one ever beat him up for it or burned his effigy, even when he visited small conservative towns on his book tours. Having been raised by very liberal parents in conservative North Carolina, he was prepared for more reaction.
"I was talking with a friend about the whole 'Piss Christ' controversy, that piece by Andres Serrano? My friend was saying, 'Oh, this is just the same thing.' But [former North Carolina Senator] Jesse Helms didn't go out and smash embassies and shit, you know what I'm saying?" Rees laughs.
With Rolling Stone paying what he calls "good money" for the strip, Rees has had a lot of time to grapple with his feelings about all this. But that doesn't mean he's as aggressively political as someone like (his example) left-wing comic artist Ted Rall, nor is he aggressively trying to expand his exposure. Indeed, Rees was so reluctant to profit off the strip, which began as faxes to friends and is only syndicated to a "handful" of alt-weeklies, that he has assigned the royalties from two of his popular books to a non-profit that removes land mines from the war-scarred province of Herat in northwestern Afghanistan.
"One of the reasons I started the comic was this crazy situation we had with the cluster-bombs and the food aid packages dropping at the same time in Afghanistan," he says. "It's a way of using the comic to make some small change, because I didn't feel confident that the comic itself would do that, or even that it would be appropriate. Because I felt like the comic would become less interesting."
And that, after all, is the point. Rees had nothing to lose when he started the comic, being a virtual unknown, and he regards it now as neither a meal ticket nor a political organizing tool. He's only interested in the strip as it continues to work as a comic and as an experiment in language. His clip-art characters let him keep the emphasis on the dialogue -- a super-contemporary mix of hip-hop slang and office shorthand and self-help psychobabble -- that reveals something dark and uncomfortable in all of us, maybe even in our national character. We are all complicit. Remember, it's called "Get Your War On" -- and that includes himself.
"I was going to quit 'Get Your War On' when Kerry was sworn in and Bush left," he says with a sigh, "and Bush won, and I was like, 'Oh god, I've got to do this shit for another four years.' Now it's like running a marathon: Come on, a couple more hills, and then you'll be done when Bush is done! But I think I'll continue it for now, because it is cathartic."
Stuart Hoffman does not believe in the medical use of marijuana – at least, not the kind you grow in your backyard or buy off the street. And he'd feel that way, he says, even if he wasn't the chief medical review officer for the drug testing services at ChoicePoint, with clients ranging from the U.S. government to large national retail chains. Born and educated in Minnesota, he was a private oncologist with a thriving practice in Downey, Calif., for 35 years, and had plenty of patients who used pot to relieve symptoms. And while he agrees marijuana does relieve symptoms – dulling chronic pain, reducing seizures, stimulating the appetite, controlling nausea – he's seen it surpassed by better drugs.
And that, he says, is where the pro-medical marijuana people go wrong. It's not that the feds don't want to relieve suffering of people like Angel Raich, the 38-year-old with a plethora of chronic conditions who has taken her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. It's that the medical establishment has studied pot and found it lacking. "Angel Raich is being used by a group of people, in my opinion, who are struggling to make marijuana legal across the board," says Hoffman, "and they use all sorts of arguments that are sort of half-truths." He spoke not in his capacity as an officer of ChoicePoint – he cannot speak officially for the company – but as a doctor who couldn't let those "half-truths" lie.
At ChoicePoint, do you test people who use medical marijuana?
Dr. Stuart Hoffman: Constantly. We do about four million drug tests a year here. Approximately five percent are positive for all sorts of things, and marijuana is probably 75-80 percent of those. A few people have prescriptions for Marinol, pure marijuana: perfectly legitimate, recognized by the federal government. People who are on medical marijuana present a very different problem for us because there are only about 10 or 11 states that currently accept medical marijuana. And it is the employer's individual policy which determines whether we make it a positive or negative.
So a Wal-Mart store in California will fire someone for using medical marijuana?
A Wal-Mart store anywhere in the world will not recognize medical marijuana, even though some states say that it's legal. It's their decision. It's title 49, part 40, U.S. Department of Transportation. [Hoffman pulls out thick printed book of regulations.] That's the bible for the federally regulated tests, and it's been challenged in court many times. Nobody's ever beaten this thing.
As an oncologist, you treated people who used marijuana. Have your attitudes about it changed?
No, my attitudes about it have always been the same. I treated many people with chemotherapy who became very nauseated, who were dying of cancer, losing weight and couldn't eat. Before it was legal, many of my patients would go out and get street marijuana. At the time, there were drugs called Compazine and Thorazine, which were also tranquilizers but had a fair anti-nausea effect. These drugs were on a par with marijuana, and none of them was very good, but they were better than nothing. About seven or eight years ago, a whole new class of drugs came in including things like Ondansetron and two-to-three others, which were anti-nausea medicines that just revolutionized chemotherapy. These were superb. There was no question, it was better. There were still a few people who would request marijuana because it was the mystique of the forbidden fruit.
Yes, but Ondansetron is expensive, and homegrown pot is free.
Sure. It's not cheap. But Ondansetron is given intravenously at the time of the chemotherapy, so insurance covers it 100 percent. Uninsured people don't get chemotherapy, because they can't afford it – so cost isn't really a factor.
What about appetite stimulation?
It's been known for years that marijuana will stimulate your appetite a little bit. But they've found that massive doses of progesterone, one of the female hormones – the substance is marketed under a trade name of Megestrol – is a superb appetite stimulant. Far better than marijuana.
Why not give seriously ill people whatever they want? Isn't it a societal goal to relieve suffering?
There's a lot of things that the general public does out of guilt or what they feel is compassion, but which really doesn't jive with reality for the people actually on the stuff. I had a huge cross-section of the population in my practice – they didn't want it. Any more than they wanted opium or opiates for pain relief. They fought it. But, nonetheless – if they did want it, that's fine. When it comes to pain relief, the right dose of morphine is enough. Whatever that is. The first goal is to prolong life. The next goal is to relieve suffering.
Sounds like you agree that marijuana could be good for that.
They can have Marinol. Now, there are many physicians in the state of California, particularly in Northern California, who have marijuana practices. We see the medical marijuana prescriptions coming in here. I called one of these physicians and talked to her at some length. She told me that she has limited her practice to the treatment of conditions that require marijuana. She has about 500-600 patients. I asked, "Well, what kind of diseases are you treating?" I thought: HIV, cancers, and things. [She said,] "I treat chronic anxiety, low back strains, tension headaches, degenerative arthritis." A bunch of things that the preponderance of physicians in this country would not treat with marijuana. I said, "Well, do you monitor them?" "Oh, yes. If these patients don't come in to see me once a month, I don't refill their prescription." This, to my mind, is immoral.
Why? She's relieving their suffering in some way.
But she could prescribe it for 90 days. She's doing this for the money.
Isn't that true of all doctors? People take drugs for arthritis or back pain or depression and never stop. Every time they go in to see the doctor, the doctor gets paid.
Sure, there are doctors who do that. Valium, Vicodin. But, in these areas, the state Medical Board of Quality Assurance does step in. I told them about this doctor, and they said she was doing nothing illegal. But there are people getting thrown out of the profession every single month for doing that.
You've given me a pile of photocopies showing that the government still allows research on the medical effects of marijuana. But the FDA and DEA have claimed for years that they cannot reschedule marijuana to allow for medical use because there's no research. Are they just ignoring it?
No. There's no research supporting street marijuana as medicine. If you listen to Americans for Safe Access, it says: These people are dying because they can't get access to marijuana. That's baloney. They can have Marinol. Your body can't tell the difference if you take it in that form or whether you smoke a joint. The federal government recognizes that there is a medical purpose for marijuana and a use. What they don't recognize is a medical purpose for marijuana grown in your backyard or bought off the street, because it conflicts with the societal objective of keeping the community safer by allowing less people to be impaired by it.
So you disagree with the idea that people ought to be able to medicate themselves.
That's true: That I disagree with, because you are taking a substance that can impair you and there's not some medical oversight. I'm not a policeman. I'm not a judge. I really believe that society is better off without medical marijuana. Sure, some people are going to benefit – poor people who cannot afford health insurance, for example. I have heard some very cogent arguments stating that we should completely decriminalize drug abuse and make it an illness. But sometimes when you get conflicting benefits and non-benefits to society, you say, OK, which is the greatest good for the greatest number?
If President George W. Bush's squeaky reelection is supposed to be a mandate on conservative moral values, how do you explain that 17 out of 20 pro-marijuana initiatives on ballots nationwide were approved?
For instance, look at Montana: Energized evangelical voters in this pro-Bush state led a charge that amended their state constitution to make gay marriage illegal, but they also approved of medical marijuana by a massive 62 to 38 percent. The churches obviously didn't mobilize against pot like White House Drug Czar John Walters urged them to do. In fact, this election may be the breakthrough on marijuana legalization in general: Conservatives nationwide came out in favor of pot as medicine.
Most notable was Alaska's losing proposal to make all marijuana legal, and to tax and regulate it like alcohol or tobacco. It was almost sure to lose, as was Oregon's marijuana dispensary proposal, but both powered the initiation far forward. A study by Boreal Economic Research & Analysis in Fairbanks powered the initiative, estimating that marijuana prohibition costs the state more than $28 million a year, but the state could generate $10-12 million annually if marijuana were taxed like alcohol and tobacco, for a possible budget gain of $40 million. That was persuasive to 43 percent of voters there, and the legislature has to debate it now for the first time.
"We're actually going to see that debate happening in at least Alaska and Nevada, but maybe also Vermont," says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "So next year's going to be a new high water mark."
Were any of these proposals on the ballot November 2 breaking new ground?
Rob Kampia: The Montana initiative on medical marijuana is very similar to the nine states that already have medical marijuana laws, so it is now the 10th. Oregon is one of the nine states that has a medical marijuana law. The initiative allowed nonprofit dispensaries to sell medical marijuana to patients. No state has actually authorized a system where patients can go into a pharmacy-like establishment. If the Oregon measure had passed, then that would be the first state to allow the sale of marijuana in any context. There has never been a proposal like the one in Oregon. It's cutting edge.
Alaska's was bold.
The Alaska initiative was a slightly more conservative version of the radical initiative that failed in 2000, 41 to 59 percent. The new one would remove penalties for adults aged 21 and older who want to use marijuana for any reason. And it would tax and regulate it like tobacco and alcohol. And it also maintains penalties for selling marijuana to kids, driving under the influence, and smoking marijuana in public. The one from four years ago had the age at 18 instead of 21; it would have granted amnesty and restitution to marijuana offenders.
Is this the first time they would actually impose this kind of tax and regulation system since the original 1937 tax act?
Yeah, no system has ever been in place in this country, even before marijuana was outlawed in 1937. This vote was the fifth vote on a broad-based marijuana measure in the history of the country. The first failed in California in the early-'70s. The second failed in Oregon in 1986. The third failed in Alaska in 2000. The fourth failed in Nevada in 2002. And this is the fifth now.
What if it were to pass? Would users wake up the next day and find pot taxed out of reach?
The marijuana would have to be cheaper or people would just buy it from the criminal market. The tax revenues would be a substantial fraction of the state budget. Taxing and regulating marijuana would have basically allowed Alaskans to a) not raise taxes, and b) not dip into the permanent fund. So anyone who cares about money should vote for this, but of course a lot of people vote against these initiatives for what they consider to be moral reasons.
Seems like that would solve a problem in a lot of states, like California, where it's the number one cash crop, and Kentucky, and West Virginia ....
Oh, it sure would. Analysis on the national level shows that the tax revenues on the regulated marijuana market would be analogous to the tax revenues from tobacco and alcohol. They're all in about the $12 billion range. The war on marijuana nationally costs the taxpayers $12 billion, so if you actually ended the war and regulated, it would be a $24 billion turnaround, state, federal, and local revenues combined.
Any possibility that, like medical marijuana, this kind of overt broad taxation and regulation regime would subject people to federal prosecution?
In theory, the feds can arrest people for medical marijuana in the nine states now, and in theory the feds could arrest people for recreational marijuana use in Alaska if the initiative had passed. It's the same dynamic. In reality, the feds won't be arresting people for personal use and personal possession.
In California they've been all over the medical marijuana dispensaries.
As you've seen in California, the feds go after a couple dispensaries but leave most of them alone, and it really kind of depends on how big they are, how politically savvy the people running it are, etc. The feds kind of just pick and choose. The same thing would happen in Alaska. The feds might go to one of two to try to make a point and scare the rest, but ultimately the American entrepreneurial spirit will prevail.
What happens since it lost?
Alaska courts have ruled that the possession and use of up to four ounces of marijuana by adults 21 and older in the privacy of their home is legal. The statewide Alaska court of appeals reaffirmed this in August 2003. Pretty radical. It should have been on the front page of every newspaper. But where are these adults going to buy it? They either have to buy it from drug dealers or from regulated establishments, which benefits the taxpayers. In the losing scenario, we still have to go to the legislature to make sure that they don't screw around with the court victory.
In Nevada in 2002, Drug Czar John Walters used a lot of federal money to defeat that broad legalization initiative. Did that happen this time?
Yes. The feds used taxpayer money to campaign against us in all three of our initiative states, cruising around the state, flying around, staying in hotels, and holding news conferences.
And what kind of effect did that have?
The thing that mattered in Nevada was the fact that the drug czar has a budget of about $200 million a year to spend on so-called anti-drug advertising. He ran anti-marijuana ads that scared the people about marijuana. They showed teenagers running over a little girl on a bicycle, and a teenager smoking pot and shooting his friend, and another teenager getting pregnant after smoking pot, and on and on. The debate ultimately devolved into whether or not the instances of marijuana DUI would increase under a marijuana regulatory scheme.
They didn't do these ad buys this time?
It appears not. We've been giving them a hard time in Congress, because Congress has to actually appropriate this money every year. We've had two appropriations cycles where we've been lobbying and talking to members of Congress. I'm just hypothesizing here. I'm quite pleased that they're not running their stupid ads. They have much more money than we do.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert said billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros made his money through drug dealers because he backed some of these initiatives. Has that hurt funding for you guys at all?
That's a good question. The answer is no. The lies from Hastert and others have not affected that one iota, nor will it affect it in the future. When federal officials lie about these guys, that only emboldens them. Ultimately, it reduces Hastert's credibility and it might give us a little boost. There were no anti-marijuana proposals on any ballots, so we didn't lose one inch of ground.
Los Angeles Times columnist Bob Scheer says that what most people don't understand about his friend and colleague Arianna Huffington is that she has the "drive of the immigrant." This translates into swift-moving passions -- for Keynesian economics at Cambridge, for Republican society as the model wife to oilman Michael Huffington, for a public conversion to social liberalism as a popular columnist and best-selling author. She cares about getting the best information about any system that affects her life, and cares a lot. Which goes a little way toward explaining what is going on this morning in her study.
Like an episode of The Osbournes, the homes of the wealthy always seem cluttered with essential hasslements, and at 8 a.m., the cool, wood-trimmed study in Arianna's $7 million Brentwood chateau is full of bodies. A gaggle of fresh-washed collegiate types straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad are in a second-story loft yelling down phone messages: it's political consultant Bill Hillsman; it's Endeavor talent agency partner Ari Emmanuel; it's someone chairing a party for her at producer Lawrence Bender's house. Arianna's sister and a household employee materialize and dematerialize. Workmen and messengers drop off and pick up. A documentary film crew follows her as it has done since the day she announced her candidacy, looking a little worn after having been on the job since a 6 a.m. C-Span appearance.
Arianna herself, however, sits three feet away looking fresh, the auburn hair perfect, a bit of a game face on. She seems, in fact, like an athlete, peaking. The woman once described by the U.K. Guardian newspaper as "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus," and by one Los Angeles magazine as "the Sir Edmund Hillary of social climbers," has a new crusade.
"Schwarzenegger starts running his television ads today," she says with that Zsa Zsa accent, her eyes flashing, "They don't say anything." Her eyes never leave my face. "We are going to start running some ads of our own."
The remark seems loaded with promise. One of her most recent activist campaigns, the Detroit Project, hit TV last year with ads parodying the Bush administration spots equating pot smoking with supporting terrorism (a stretch if there ever was one). The Project's ads instead tied terror funding to SUVs (another stretch: using more gas directly funds Saudi wahabism, which radicalized 19 of the 9/11 terrorists). Her campaign ads, she says, will focus squarely on her policies, but this kind of creative zinger is exactly what she enjoys best. Oregon's biggest newspaper, the Oregonian, found that her involvement with the Project crossed the line into advocacy, and cancelled her column.
In the race as a potential replacement for California Gov. Gray Davis, however, this kind of activism might be her very real Achilles' heel. Not because it isn't sincere, but because she takes it so seriously -- and in a direction not easy for voters to follow. Few candidates have taken positions as progressive as Huffington's in this campaign, and few have so thoroughly prepared to take unpopular stances against both party and corporate power as she has in her books, "How to Overthrow the Government" and "Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America." But while subverting the dominant paradigm, critics say she may be playing it just a bit too clever. For instance, in saying that her policies are "not a matter of right or left, but rather right or wrong." In downplaying the enlightenment that took her from Gingrich Republican to anti-corporate, pro-Green advocate of government programs for the downtrodden (she doesn't like the word liberal). In shaping a Third Way that's not yet defined. And even in running a populist campaign, when clearly big donors and big favors by Hollywood big guns have so far kept her afloat.
Here is the immigrant drive coming back to bite Arianna in the ass. Arnold, too, is a new American, and Huffington is the first to admit they have a lot in common, saying in a recent New York Times article, "I was a Schwarzenegger Republican." But his drive to wealth and fame directed him toward what he sees as mainstream, pro-business GOP politics. Arianna's drive took her beyond the mainstream to something personal. Many people feel that's exactly what the state needs. Others feel the disconnect. She is a candidate of public transformations, but they may be coming too fast.
The Detroit Project ads are a good example. While most Americans are bright enough to know that pot isn't paying for terrorism, they also like their SUVs. Really like them. Even worse, Mr. Huffington, who has undertaken some ungallant attacks since his ex-wife joined the recall race, points out that, even though she drives a hybrid car now, the garage used to contain three or four SUVs. To Arianna, this is a non-issue. She got better informed and changed her mind. It should be a non-issue to everyone wanting to vote for her, too. But it's not that simple.
But right now Arianna has and enjoys a direct connection to the voters. She sincerely wants to "break the hold of special interests in California," meaning the corporate ties to both parties and the Democrats' unholy alliances with big donors like the prison guards unions. The recall election is a rare moment of sunshine for an Independent, especially someone who is identified by her colleague Matt Miller, host of public radio's Left, Right, and Center, as being "in the fourth dimension of political time and space," and she intends to make hay.
She says she'd use California's strong and (some say) much-abused ballot initiative system to circumvent the legislature and take issues to the voters. Maybe she should just do that anyway.
"You cannot do it if you don't have the people with you," she says. "I would use my bully pulpit to ensure that the public knows what's happening. Then you have an outraged public ... what [Rev. Dr. Martin Luther] King called a 'creative minority.' Right now, we have a governor who communicates with the people only at election time or when his back is against the wall."
Her top three policy initiatives are all ready to go. The first is a spin-off from her latest book, "Pigs at the Trough," a relentless, circular diatribe about how taxpayers and shareholders are ripped off by corporate tax loopholes and massive CEO compensation packages. Like Schwarzenegger's buddy Warren Buffett, and now Bustamante as well, Arianna has dared to address the need to reform Proposition 13 -- not the section that protects widows on fixed incomes from losing their homes, but the loophole that Proposition 13 architect Howard Jarvis had to throw in that treats corporations as individuals. Companies thus get the same break homeowners do, and further avoid having their massive properties reassessed by "transferring" them rather than buying and selling, maintaining 1970s-level tax payments.
Her second ballot initiative would mandate public financing of campaigns. This, she says, is the only way to break a vicious upward spending spiral that Arianna herself experienced first hand, when Michael Huffington spent about $30 million of his own money in 1994 on the most expensive U.S. Senate race in history, losing narrowly to Dianne Feinstein. The third initiative would require the use of an increased amount of renewable energies like wind and solar power by the state, and give tax incentives to encourage their use by businesses and individuals.
These ideas, along with most of Arianna's positions (pro-union, cut the prison budget, curtail the Drug War, pro-choice, against Ward Connerly's bid to stop the state from collecting racial data with Proposition 54, anti-death penalty, etc.), jibe with solidly progressive Democrat sensibilities. But her deadly antipathy to party politics has made her allergic to the word left.
"She brings a 'political incorrectness' to break through the stagnation," says Jodie Evans, director of administration under Gov. Jerry Brown from 1975 thru 1983, cofounder of activist group Code Pink, and one of Arianna's best friends. "I don't trust somebody who's stuck in the same place. Are they thinking it through? The status quo has a deathgrip like never in my lifetime."
Not all her friends are buying the cant. "I find that whole 'above labels' stuff to be a bunch of bullshit," says Scheer good-naturedly. "There is a left position and a right position, those differences are real, and they're useful. If you're pro-gay rights, women's rights, if you favor the ACLU even when it supports Ollie North and William F. Buckley, then on those issues you're on the left."
Green Party candidate Peter Camejo welcomes Arianna as a fellow progressive but says there are differences. "[She's] running basically on the Green Party platform -- for peace, for social justice, for ecological sustainability. But I believe we should be building a party, a permanent organization. She's stepping forward in a special moment of crisis."
Scheer points out that Arianna also represents a more mainstream shift in leftist values: abandoning class and welfare issues. She's big on charter schools and supported welfare reform. "They've basically decided, like the right, that poor people have to fend for themselves, and that progress equals kicking people off the welfare rolls," he laments. "These are surprising positions, but they're not un-thought-out ones. I think her heart is very liberal."
Arianna would use the word populist. She wants the flexibility to pick and choose among ideas that work, saying that's the way to energize a skeptical electorate. "Politicians are pretty happy with the shrinking universe of voters," she says. "In California, in the last election, 13 million eligible voters. That's the universe that we need to be addressing."
Child of the Resistance
In many ways, this is the universe that Arianna has been addressing all along: an electorate that cares more about survival than politics. Her much-ballyhooed transformation from compassionate conservative to corporate giant-killer is all about how best to get results. According to a well-researched 2000 piece by Jacob Heilbrunn, a former senior editor at the New Republic, Arianna's real goals are spiritual. He writes: "Huffington has railed against an obsessive pursuit of wealth and fame and stressed the need to create a critical mass of concerned citizens who, one by one, will change the general culture." In her pursuit of this "critical mass" -- King's "creative minority" -- are the roots of her famously rapacious quest for knowledge.
The details of Arianna's young life are not well-documented, but she was born Arianna Stassinopoulos in Greece on July 15, 1950, the elder of two daughters, lived in Athens, and studied comparative religions at age 16 at Shantiniketan University near Calcutta. Her mother, Elli, served in the Greek resistance against the Nazis. But Elli couldn't stomach the then-insurgent Greek Communists either, impressing on Arianna a lifelong mistrust of totalitarian ideologies and urging her to read Greek mythology. Arianna's father, Constantine, edited a resistance newspaper, Paron, was interned in a Nazi concentration camp, and after the war started a raft of publishing enterprises, none of them overly successful. After separating from him, Elli took Arianna, then 16, and her younger sister, Agapi (author of "Conversations with the Goddesses"), to England.
Entering Cambridge on a scholarship, Arianna basically took the place by storm with her good looks and blazing intellect. She studied Keynesian economics at Girton College and earned a masters degree, and at 21 forced herself to confront her heavily accented English by becoming the first foreign-born woman to be the president of the celebrated debating society, the Cambridge Union. One of her tutors was the Maoist economist Joan Robinson. She is remembered there, according to a recent article in the London Telegraph, as sporting around in an Alfa Romeo and literally romancing conservative ideals, dating a young member of Parliament, John Selwyn Gummer, who later became vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party. She later had dinner with Times of London writer Bernard Levin, one of the most influential columnists of the time, and ended up in an eight-year relationship with him.
Despite moving in the elite circles of free-market thought, Arianna was apparently wary of fundamentalism, and wanted to address human and spiritual values. While living with Levin, she wrote her first book, "The Female Woman" -- a response to Germaine Greer's "The Female Eunuch." Published in 1973, the book attacked feminist orthodoxy which, she said, showed contempt for women (as anti-revolutionary) who valued children and intimacy. She was 24 when the book became a best-seller.
After writing a scathing lament to lost spiritual ideals, "After Reason," which criticized both the left and the right for failing society's left-behinds, Arianna wrote a titillating, best-selling biography of opera great Maria Callas, the success of which ushered her into New York's literary society, where she went to live in 1980. She soon began working on a well-received biography of Pablo Picasso. The affair with Levin over, she kept a heavy high-society and speaking schedule, including travel to California, where her quest for spiritual fulfillment led to her then-and-current guru, who goes by the name John-Roger.
Calling himself a religious figure embodying "Mystical Traveler Consciousness," John-Roger heads up the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. In a recent New York Times article, Arianna defended her connection to him, saying, "I've gotten a lot of value from John-Roger's work. He's a good friend." Ex-hubby Michael was less impressed, saying in the same article, "His religion is a religion of opportunity."
John-Roger became one of many increasingly fast ties to California life for Arianna. According to David Brock's blockbuster 1999 Esquire piece on the Huffingtons, she dated real estate tycoon and U.S News & World Report editor-in-chief Mort Zuckerman (who'd also dated Gloria Steinem) and even former California Gov. Jerry Brown. One night in 1985, at J. Paul Getty's mansion in Pacific Heights, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Ann Getty walked into the parlor and introduced a ravishing Arianna to her opera date for the night, Texas oil heir Michael Huffington.
When Huffington asked her that first night what was the most important thing in her life, Arianna answered: "God." Michael immediately realized he was talking to a person of substance. He was, by his own admission, a confused and wealthy young investment banker, a former aide to congressman George W. Bush, and board member with his father's Houston oil company, Huffco. He admits in the Esquire piece that he'd been struggling with his homosexuality for many years before he met Arianna. Whether or not she knew about this struggle, she married him in April 1986.
After a year as an arms negotiator at the Pentagon, Washington chafed at Michael, and the Huffingtons moved to Santa Barbara. In mid-1991, Michael persuaded the board, and his authoritarian, self-made father, Roy, to sell the company during high oil prices. The family's take was $500 million, and Mike's share was about $80 million. The Huffingtons had always supported GOP candidates, and shortly after arriving in Santa Barbara, Michael announced he would run for California's 28th District U.S. congressional seat. He spent $5.4 million and beat out 18-year incumbent Bob Lagomarsino.
From their new $4 million home in Wesley Heights, Washington DC, Arianna became the model Republican wife. First, she had her two daughters, Isabella and Christina (now 14 and 12). Using her society connections, she not only entertained lavishly but oversaw a lot of Michael's political duties. During the campaign, she'd even debated Lagomarsino twice in Michael's stead.
She also came to the attention of Newt Gingrich, then at the height of his Republican Revolution, when he saw Arianna give a speech on C-Span titled "Can Conservatives Have a Social Conscience?" Intrigued, Gingrich invited her to deliver a similar talk at a Republican retreat at Princeton, and Arianna fell under his neo-con spell. Compassionate conservatism had become a buzzword, and she even started a think tank to promote it, the Center for Effective Compassion. She began a column in the conservative Washington Times, a newspaper owned by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
In a March 2000 column in the L.A. Times titled "What Prompted the Transformation of My Political Thinking," Arianna admits she was "bamboozled" by Gingrich's "Contract with America." She writes, "I once believed that the private sector -- especially conservative multibillionaires who want less government involvement -- would rise to the occasion and provide the funding needed to replicate the programs that work, sustain them, and bring them to the market." As she watched Gingrich fail, she became disillusioned. Today, she says, "...we have become two nations, one basking in unprecedented prosperity, the other left to choke on the dust of Wall Street's galloping bulls."
She began appearing with political comedians Al Franken and Bill Maher on Politically Incorrect, still representing the right, but getting more moderate all the time. The capper to her transformation came with Michael's ill-advised run for U.S. Senate. During the campaign, in which a half-inspired and increasingly angry Michael spent one-third of his net wealth while secretly hoping to lose (he later admitted) as a way to quit politics gracefully, Arianna says she saw the venal, ruthless side of campaigning first hand. She hated both the parties involved. She became an Independent.
In June 1997, the marriage dissolved. Arianna took a settlement worth many millions (details are confidential). She bought the house in Brentwood and began appearing weekly on KCRW-FM Santa Monica's Left, Right, and Center, at first still taking right-wing positions, but very steadily swinging left and then, as they say, "beyond." She was a major force in organizing the "shadow conventions" outside the 2000 Democratic and Republican national conventions, designed to galvanize activism against both parties and toward a more democratic system. Now her seat on the right has been taken by Weekly Standard columnist David Frum, a Bush speechwriter credited with the phrase "axis of evil."
It's not as if California hasn't seen a political creature like Arianna Huffington before. In some ways, she shares an intellectual lineage with her old (briefly) beau and friend, Jerry Brown.
Himself a scion of privilege, and labeled "Governor Moonbeam" for his unorthodox ideas, Brown was similarly focused on the spiritual, studying in a Jesuit Seminary before taking a law degree from Yale and degrees in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkeley. He was twice elected Governor as a Democrat, and is in his second term as mayor of Oakland as a nonpartisan. He shares with Arianna a similar passion for the great untried idea, and an immunity to risk. He refused to live in the governor's mansion, renting a small apartment instead, and he drove a plain, state-issued Plymouth. He eschews party political machinery. He has been embraced by the Greens, whose motto is "neither left nor right but forward." Sound familiar?
"Don't you need somebody who has transformed in order to transform?" asks Jodie Evans, now an advisor to Arianna's campaign. "When transformation of the system is what you're after, you have to have someone who knows what it means."
But Jerry Brown is more of a known quantity than Arianna. And these are mean times. What chance does open transformation have? "Zero," says Bruce Cain, professor of political science and director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at U.C. Berkeley. "Her politics are to the left of most Democrats. She could shine in the debates. Being the only woman there, she's going to get some sympathy and support. The best she could hope for is to be a spoiler."
This, she swears, she will not do. Early on, she made a pact with Peter Camejo that either one would pull out and throw their votes to the other, depending on who had the better chance. Would she do the same for Bustamante?
"I'm not a spoiler," she says cagily. She points out that, even days before the election, not one pollster picked Jesse Ventura to become governor of Minnesota. Candidacies like hers and Schwarzenegger's, she says, bring out a different universe of voters. "I don't like the idea of being the message candidate. I would not be running if I didn't have a realistic chance at winning."
Dennis Romero and Joe Piasecki contributed to this report.
Lynn and Judy Osburn were preparing for a day of working with their horses on Sept. 28, 2001, when they heard the deep thump of a helicopter suddenly shattering the silence of the Ozena Valley. Sitting in the kitchen of their house in the Los Padres National Forest, their hearts sank. A line of 15 unmarked SUVs and one Ventura County Sheriff's car pulled up to their horse gate. As the caravan roared up the gravel drive, their four dogs exploded in furious barking and horses scattered through the sage scrub in a panic.
The Osburns knew instantly what was going down. Every county and federal official from Ventura to downtown L.A. knew they grew marijuana; the Osburns had met with them and discussed it openly. Somewhere on the property was allegedly a field of 270 tall, stinky plants about ready to harvest. Lynn, 53, and Judy, 50, gathered themselves. They stepped into the brilliant mountain light, hands high so no one would have any reason to shoot.
"Their lead investigator told us they didn't want to be there," says Lynn, sitting at his kitchen table. "They had argued for a long time with their superiors that this wasn't what they should be doing. They were very apologetic. It was a very strange occasion."
Under California state law, the Osburns' bumper weed crop was perfectly legal. They were the state-approved growers for the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center (LACRC), a West Hollywood medical marijuana co-op operating legally under Prop 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which legalizes the use of pot as physician-prescribed medicine. The dope cultivated by the Osburns would relieve the symptoms of 960 registered patients in L.A., who used it to treat the wasting associated with AIDS, chemotherapy nausea, chronic pain and glaucoma, among other conditions.
But the agents who poured out of these vehicles, some dressed in camouflage and many wearing ski masks, weren't bound by state law. They were mostly L.A.-based agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, pot is a Schedule 1 narcotic, which is defined as having "no medicinal use." Therefore, in the Twilight Zone that is the federal bureaucracy, medical marijuana doesn't exist. They had a warrant from the US Attorney's office in L.A.
Since 2001, the Bush Administration -- and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Drug Czar John Walters, and ex-DEA director Asa Hutchinson, in particular -- have openly defied the sovereignty of California voters by raiding pot co-ops and making selective arrests of 30 medical pot users and growers. They have gone after the highest-profile individuals, including many who passed the original ballot initiative. Some have been sent up on federal prison sentences as long as 10 years. The Osburns were just such a catch: They had been the key organizers of Prop 215 support in Ventura County.
"This is their strategy, and I think it's backfiring," says Hilary McQuie of Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical marijuana group. "Every one of these cases is demoralizing to the DEA, and builds up public sentiment against them."
This new crackdown, which has isolated the DEA from local cops and splintered local drug task forces across the state, has now made pot into a conservative issue. President Bush, who campaigned on a pro-state's rights agenda concerning potentially racist matters like flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina statehouse, or local environmental control, has reversed himself and increased federal power in order to fight voter-approved marijuana. Medical pot is legal in some form in nine states, but only California activists have been the victims of the administration's moral agenda.
The state's rights implications of this assault have now greatly overshadowed Ashcroft's crowing about the need to prosecute the Drug War or fight terrorism. An unlikely coalition of staunch conservatives and outraged liberals have backed two new bills in Congress to address this conflict.
As Ventura County Sheriffs deputies stood aside, the DEA agents marched out to the Osburns' weedpatch and pulled up every plant. They did not draw their guns. They loaded up the huge stack of weed into their trucks and left. The Osburns weren't arrested, not even handcuffed. They were left with a choice: Go without their medicine, which they both use under prescription to treat chronic pain, or become criminals by buying on the black market.
"The Bush administration would like to have patients locked away in prison until they die of whatever disease their doctor recommended the marijuana for," says Lynn, his anger mounting. "They've never attacked Prop 215 or any of the laws from the eight other states. The Supreme Court hasn't overruled it. Instead, they've gone after patients. This is his so-called 'compassionate conservatism.'"
It would be over a year before any charges would be filed against the Osburns. But in the fall of 2002, they were busted again for growing 35 plants for medical use, and this time L.A.-based U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald threw the book at them, prosecuting for both raids. Their case goes to trial this fall, where a conviction could mean 40 years in prison, and possibly the forfeiture of their 60-acre ranch.
They're scared, but they're hoping to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and settle this matter once and for all: Are states truly free to make their own law and police their own population, as the constitution clearly guarantees? Or does this power rest in the hands of a few appointed federal chiefs who set the nation's moral agenda?
State's Rights Abandoned
Unlike George W. Bush, Prop 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, did not squeak by at the ballot box. It was approved by a relative landslide at 55.7 percent. This creates a tremendous conflict for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat. He voted for 215 because he felt it was humane policy. But he does not favor the legalization of drugs in general, and under his tenure meth labs and remote marijuana fields have been snagged in record numbers. Now, as the state's top cop, his mandate under 215 puts him in a clash with the feds, who have busted 40 prescription-carrying medical pot users and growers since 9/11, and are hustling to give them lengthy sentences.
The DEA's position is clear. "The DEA does not think that marijuana is a medicine," explains Special Agent Richard Meyer, information officer for the DEA in San Francisco. "[In California], there may be some support for medical marijuana, but the U.S. population as a whole is against it. We have to uphold federal law." "Prop 215 got about 5 million votes," says Hallye Jordan, Lockyer's press secretary. "That's a huge number. The Attorney General is frustrated that today we find ourselves embroiled with these types of fights with the Bush Administration over a wide variety of issues, where the states are being blocked by federal authorities from implementing state law."
It's not just pot laws. Jordan points out that the Bush Administration has also actively blocked state laws regarding consumer protection, financial privacy, the environment, and gun control. In Oregon, John Ashcroft has worked feverishly -- and openly -- to undermine a voter-approved assisted suicide law. "What we have right now is not a nation governed by the will of the people," says Brenda Grantland, an attorney for Judy Osburn. "But one in which the few elected political leaders decide what the law is. It doesn't matter what the voters say. It's not a democracy, it's an oligarchy."
When the DEA moved in fall 2002 to bust a Santa Cruz collective known as the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), regarded as the most refined model for medical marijuana distribution in the state, the chief of police in San Jose was so upset he pulled all his officers off a DEA-led joint task force. Lockyer then fired off a terse letter to then-DEA chief Asa Hutchinson (now at the Dept. of Homeland Security). Calling the DEA raids "harassment," Lockyer said they were "wasteful, unwise, and surprisingly insensitive." Then he laid out the complaint shared by many in the state and in congress:
"While I am acutely aware that federal law conflicts with California's on this subject and needs to be reconciled, surely an Administration with a proper sense of balance, proportion, and respect for states' rights could and should reconsider the DEA's policy and redirect its resources to concentrate fully on the priorities we share: the destruction of criminal narcotics organizations, the interruption of commerce in drugs far more dangerous than marijuana, and choking the flow of drug money to terrorists."
Hutchinson, whose DEA once raided a Bay Area pot club on the same day he made a pro-Drug War speech in San Francisco, replied to Lockyer's letter. First, he toed the line of every federal Administration since Nixon, insisting that marijuana's medical merits are unproven. Then he pulled out a charge which the DEA repeats today, but for which no evidence has ever been given, writing that Prop 215 was "being abused to facilitate traditional illegal marijuana trafficking and associated crime."
Hutchinson never met with Lockyer, and the message was unmistakable: The Bush Administration didn't care what the voters wanted.
Congressman Ron Paul [R-TX], a conservative from Bush's home state, sees this as a betrayal by the president. Along with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [R-CA] from Huntington Beach, he has backed the newly-renamed State's Rights to Medical Marijuana Act (HR2233), a version of pro-medical pot legislation that has been introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) every year since the early 1980s. It has never even moved into committee, much less to a vote. But the state's rights conflict gives new urgency to the bill, now with 21 sponsors, which seeks to re-schedule marijuana to include medical use in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. This is one of two bills now before Congress seeking to reconcile the conflict.
"Do states have the right to set their own policies regulating medical marijuana? For those who still believe states have rights under the Ninth and Tenth amendments, the answer is clearly yes," Paul said in a statement. "For too long the federal government has used the 'War on Drugs' as justification for pre-empting more and more state criminal and regulatory laws."
Rohrabacher press secretary Aaron Lewis says the congressman, who chooses not to speak on the issue, agrees. "He simply sees this as a state's rights issue," he says.
The DEA's Meyer says he welcomes some kind of reconciliation of the legal impasse. "We are all for that. We hope there is some type of agreement," he says. "In the meantime, we have to enforce the laws of the land."
Back to the Black Market
Three weeks after uprooting the LACRC's crop on the Osburn ranch, the DEA raided the Center itself. In the mid-morning of October 25, about 10 people were on hand to fill prescriptions at the West Hollywood storefront. Three days a week, the center distributed about six pounds of pot to its 960 patients. Just as at the Osburns, no one was arrested in the action. Agents just backed a big truck up to the rear door and cleared the place out in a matter of hours, taking the weed, the computers, the patient's medical files, and 400 plants plus lights and timers from the basement grow room.
West Hollywood City Council members, who had worked hard with the LACRC in order to work out a system of identity cards for the patients, and helped purchase the building, stood in the street in protest. At an unprecedented press conference, members of the council, the Center, and the L.A. Sheriffs Dept. condemned the DEA for their actions.
"People relied on this marijuana for relief, and that's a humanistic problem," said Lynda Castro, West Hollywood station captain for the L.A. Sheriffs Dept., in an interview after the raid. "The city of West Hollywood and the community here really took exception to the fact that the DEA came in against a club that was operating with great integrity."
LACRC President Scott Imler, 44, was present at the raid. A former school teacher from Santa Cruz, he helped campaign for legalized medical marijuana there, and helped write Prop 215 itself. Unlike many pot clubs in the Bay Area, which found new locations and re-opened under more clandestine conditions, the LACRC closed permanently. Soon, the feds began still-ongoing forfeiture proceedings against the building, which was co-owned by the Center and the city.
"We felt there wouldn't be any charges," says Imler. "They had convened grand juries in January 2002, and no indictment issued from that. Then the Osburns chose to replant, I don't know if that had anything to do with them coming down on us."
In November 2002, the U.S. Attorney offered a plea bargain to Imler, Center Vice President Jeffrey Farrington, and Treasurer Jeffrey Yablan: Accept guilt for one count of Maintaining a Drug House, the old crackhouse law, or get charged with that plus manufacturing and RICO conspiracy charges, with big mandatory sentences.
It couldn't have come at a worse time. Imler, who used pot for years to control epileptic seizures and spasticity, has now developed cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy at the time of this writing. Farrington has glaucoma, and Yablan has AIDS.
So why not go to court and argue that they were operating legally under state law? This raises the other, almost more infuriating consequence of the federal refusal to accept medical pot: No mention of Prop 215, medical use of pot, or what is called a "medical necessity" defense is allowed in these cases. This makes medical marijuana users and growers sitting ducks, as prosecutors use their openness in complying with the state law against them, producing their weed, plants, prescriptions, medical records, and distribution documents as irrefutable proof of guilt. Juries are forced to convict -- even when it goes against their conscience.
"It's pretty clear that no one's being allowed to raise Prop 215 in these cases, so basically this meant that we'd be going to jail," says Imler. "So the three of us swallowed hard, and decided that it was either go to jail for a long time or take a plea and see if we could get less time." Sentencing for Farrington and Yablan has been set for September. Imler's has been delayed due to his treatments.
The block against using Prop 215 in federal court stems from a May 2001 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a case involving the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative (OCBC), the nation's high court ruled only that there could be no medical necessity defense in a case involving marijuana, because pot was not scheduled as having any medical use under federal law. The court did not, however, rule 215 unconstitutional. But this ruling made it clear that any documented medical user would lose in court, and lose badly.
This was Ashcroft's silver bullet. The DEA had been busting people for years in California, but the confusion over the law made it difficult to convict as Prop 215 information invariably ended up before the jurors. Lockyer's predecessor, Dan Lungren, was less enamored of Prop 215, and worked with the DEA to keep medical users in the courts, wrangling endlessly over these questions. But after May, 2001, all that changed.
Just exactly what this means for patients who smoke pot became clear in the recent trial of weed guru Ed Rosenthal, 58. The author of over a dozen books about dope, and known worldwide for his "Ask Ed" column in High Times magazine, Rosenthal was growing marijuana as an officer of the city of Oakland, Calif. His only profit from the business came from his books: He was writing about the uses of marijuana's active ingredient, THC, to alleviate the symptoms of not only cancer and AIDS, but also multiple sclerosis and depression.
According to city officials, Rosenthal enjoyed the same kind of immunity as a cop in handling the pot. In February 2002, however, the DEA seized 3,163 plants at his West Oakland warehouse grow facility. The high number of plants enabled federal prosecutors to try him under the "kingpin" law, reserved for major drug dealers. He faced a possible sentence of 5-to-85 years. His wife, publisher Jane Klein, and pre-teen daughter were horrified.
In the trial, U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer was among the first to apply the new Supreme Court ruling. Rosenthal's attorneys were expressly forbidden to present medical marijuana information to the jurors in any way.
Breyer later said in a statement: "That may not be what the law should say, but that's what it does say. I'm not congress. I'm not the FDA [Food and Drug Administration]." The judge then screened 80 potential jurors until he found a dozen who knew nothing about Prop 215.
Predictably, considering the mountain of evidence, they convicted Rosenthal. Minutes after the trial, however, there was a jury revolt as activists and reporters informed the jurors of the consequences of their verdict. Nine of the twelve jurors later rescinded their guilty votes and publicly denounced Breyer for withholding information.
Charles Sackett, the jury foreman in the case, convicted Rosenthal because he thought he was a drug dealer. He recalls that day, "When I went out of the jury deliberation room into a public area, a newspaper reporter asked, 'Did you realize you just overturned the state medical marijuana law?' No. 'Did your realize this man was deputized by the County of Oakland and the State of California to grow medical marijuana?' No.
"I went down 19 floors seething. I was so angry. I almost got in my car and drove away, then I thought: This is not right. I went back to the courthouse, to where all the reporters were gathered, and I said to them, 'I was the jury foreman, do you want to ask me any questions?'"
By that time, a storm had been unleashed. Sackett told one reporter at the scene, "Personally, I hope he appeals and wins." The jurors then organized amongst themselves and began a campaign to affect Rosenthal's sentencing. They wrote a letter to Judge Breyer asking him not to send Rosenthal to prison, and protesting the way they were handled. Similar letters came from Lockyer and members of Congress.
On June 4, Breyer shocked everyone involved in the case by sentencing Rosenthal to one day on all three of his charges, served concurrently, then gave him credit for time served. Prosecutors were furious, having recommended six and a half years. Rosenthal was free, but still a convicted felon, and under probation. He is appealing.
Other medical marijuana users and growers convicted in the Ninth Circuit, where Breyer sits, had not fared so well. Bryan Epis, a Northern California pot club grower, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison because of the same restrictions on entering Prop 215 into evidence.
For many, the Rosenthal verdict seemed to be a sign. Keith Stroup, executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a statement: ""It should send a strong message to the Bush administration to stop wasting federal resources arresting and prosecuting medicinal marijuana patients and their care givers."
Tom Mrozek, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office in L.A., said he was unable to comment on how the sentence would affect the Osburns case.
The DEA's Meyer was more forthcoming. "It doesn't make any difference to us if somebody gets a one-day sentence or a ten-year sentence," he says. "Our job is to enforce the Controlled Substances Act."
Long Hot Summer
The Rosenthal decision hasn't changed the Osburns' outlook much. Their trial comes up in October, and meanwhile they endure house arrest (Judy can travel, with restrictions, Lynn cannot) and the sobering prospect that they still might lose their ranch.
"We think the DEA will keep going after these cases as long as they are ordered to from Washington DC, and as long as they get convictions," the couple wrote via email from their home. "And it still remains to be seen whether or not the government will appeal Ed's sentence."
It seems impossible that anything could touch them up in the Ozena Valley. There's no phone service in this remote corner of Northeast Ventura county, about 45 miles north of Ojai. To make a call, you have to drive into Frasier. There's only a U.S. Forest Service ranger station and a small community of homesteads with, as Judy points out, "30 registered voters." They do have electricity, and a satellite-delivered email service, a lot of it from their lawyers.
The Osburns only keep two Tennessee Walking horses on the ranch now, for the sake of morale as much as anything else. Their two businesses, horse training and publishing -- Judy has written several books about civil forfeiture, and how to beat it -- have both pretty much ground to a halt.
As we stand by the barn, they talk about how they've placed some hope in the "Truth In Trials Act," HR1717, a new bill introduced into congress by Rohrabacher and Sam Farr (D-CA). It would allow for the inclusion of information about Prop 215 and medical marijuana into federal trials. They also hope it comes up for a vote in time to affect their case. Judge A. Howard Matz, who is presiding, has already announced that he is observing the no-215 restrictions.
"So far, every judge in the federal system in this state has toed the Breyer line," says Lynn. "As long as no one gets a defense, it gets very hard for the jury to acquit. And they continue to terrorize sick people that should be protected under state law. Because the United States Supreme Court has not declared Prop 215 unconstitutional at all."
Both Brenda Grantland and the Osburns' trial lawyer, William Panzer, feel the Osburns will lose their case. But they're leaning into the appeal. Grantland points out that there are two separate challenges to federal authority in the case, too technical to go into here, that might make it interesting to the Supreme Court. Neither lawyer thinks they're going to get a one-day sentence.
"The Osburns are being treated differently than the other medical cases," says Panzer. "They're going hard after these people. I suspect that's because they had a civil forfeiture case against the Osburns years ago that the U.S. Attorneys lost. So they want to get back at them."
"A lot of people in elective office got there by being in favor of the politics of prohibition," says Lynn, nodding, "and these people have vested interests."
Dean Kuipers is deputy editor of LA CityBeat and LA ValleyBeat.