Joel Warner

What’s Behind the Netflix CEO’s Fight to Charterize Public Schools?

Brett Bymaster, a Silicon Valley electrical engineer, was optimistic when Rocketship Education, a non-profit charter school chain, began building its flagship Mateo Sheedy elementary school next to his San Jose home in 2007. He and his family lived in a lower-income community, so he figured the new approach could help local kids. “I didn’t know anything about charter schools, so I thought it was a good thing,” he says.

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Gap Co-Founder Doris Fisher Is Bankrolling the Charter School Agenda - and Pouring Dark Money Into CA Politics

As co-founder of the Gap, San Francisco-based business leader and philanthropist Doris Fisher boasts a net worth of $2.6 billion, making her the country’s third richest self-made woman, according to Forbes. And she’s focused much of her wealth and resources on building charter schools. She and her late husband Donald donated more than $70 million to the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) and helped to personally build the operation into the largest network of charter schools in the country, with 200 schools serving 80,000 students in 20 states. Doris’ son John serves as the chairman of KIPP’s board of directors, and she sits on the board herself.

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The Fight to Bring Transparency to California’s Charter Schools

Aimee Roylance was thrilled when her son was accepted into Livermore Valley Charter School in 2010. The traditional public schools in their part of the Bay Area were cash-strapped and struggling, and the K-8 charter school, with a waiting list 300 kids long, was known to be an excellent alternative. Sure enough, her son thrived at Livermore Valley, thanks to its diverse programming and strong leadership of its well-liked principal. Eventually, Roylance enrolled her younger two children at Livermore Valley, too.

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The Curse of Corporate Pot

The Curse of Corporate Pot

November was dizzying month in the marijuana movement, one whose impact will be felt for years to come. California inched closer to full legalization with the unveiling of a well-funded, heavily endorsed 2016 ballot initiative. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders introduced a landmark Senate bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition, a move that likely encouraged…

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Pot Smokers Fuming Over Fungicides

Brandan Flores is a careful shopper. The 24-year-old raw vegan avoids chemicals and additives in the foods he eats, and he approaches his recreational marijuana purchases the same way. He asks budtenders about the cultivation practices behind the weed they sell and quizzes them on whether their marijuana concentrates are made using butane, carbon dioxide or…

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Can Marijuana Cure PTSD? Many Veterans Say Yes

CASCADE, Colorado -- Matt Stys funnels a mound of finely ground God's Gift, a sativa strain of marijuana, into his multicolored glass bowl and takes a hit. "It allows the images and all the things in your head to lose focus and drift away for a while," says Stys as wisps of smoke curl from his mouth. For Stys, the images of being a noncommissioned officer running an entry control point in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 can fade away with the smoke: recollections of struggling to differentiate potential combatants from Iraqi citizens, of watching the wounded and dead flowing through his security checkpoint. Other demons in his head can waft away too, like the memories of spending his teenage years in foster care, and the moral ache of questioning the war in which he fought

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The Kindness of Strangers

The tale of the Colorado Compassion Club begins with a couple of antagonistic tree trimmers. As the story goes, in the summer of 2004, a Denver resident, whom we shall call Frank, told a few tree trimmers he would pay for their services in marijuana. The trimmers knew Frank was good for it. All they had to do was look into his house to spot his pot – hundreds and hundreds of plants.

When the tree trimmers' work was complete, however, Frank apparently failed to pay up. So the trimmers took matters into their own hands, namely making off with some of Frank's marijuana plants. Incensed, Frank called the cops, which, in hindsight, might not have been the best decision. When police officers arrived at Frank's home, they were less interested in his tale of mischievous tree trimmers than they were in the fact that he had hundreds of pot plants growing all over his crib.

When the cops tried to take the plants, Frank told them they'd have to go through the Drug Enforcement Agency. Bad idea number two. Frank ended up with federal agents crawling all over his cannabis arboretum.

To lessen the heat, Frank told the authorities he'd rat out the folks who'd helped him grow his sizable marijuana garden. Frank's admissions led North Metro Drug Task Force officers and federal drug agents to the door of a low-lying red-brick bungalow in a neighborhood of low-lying red-brick bungalows in east Denver at 10:30 p.m. on June 1, 2004. The home belonged to Thomas and Larisa Lawrence. Thomas is just over six feet, with light-blue eyes, brown hair tied in a ponytail and a soul patch plummeting from his lower lip. Larisa is small and pretty, with straight brown hair. At the time, both were inside the house celebrating Thomas' grandmother's 72nd birthday.

The officers asked Thomas and Larisa if they could search the premises. What happened next is in dispute.

Larisa says she asked to see a search warrant. She says the officers responded that they didn't need one because of the Patriot Act, but that they would be happy to get one, provided that Thomas, Larisa and all their guests didn't mind being locked out of the house for six hours while they whipped one up.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver, unequivocally denies such a conversation ever took place. He says Thomas and Larisa must have given the officers permission to search the premises.

Whatever the circumstances, the officers searched the house. The investigation turned up 84 young pot plants in the basement, 12 ounces of loose marijuana and six pounds of ice in the freezer that contained marijuana plant matter.

It appeared that Thomas and Larisa were unusually over-achieving stoners, but that wasn't the case. Thanks to a combination of football injuries and a degenerative spinal condition, Thomas suffers from migraines and back pain. He can't stand prescription narcotics, especially since they leave him too doped up to run his home-improvement business. The only thing that seems to help is marijuana, which dulls his pain and thins his blood, leading to fewer migraines. The medicine, as Thomas and Larisa call it, works so well that the two moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Colorado in 2001 because of the Centennial State's more lenient medical marijuana laws.

The year before, Colorado passed Amendment 20, which allows people to become licensed to use marijuana to alleviate debilitating conditions including cancer, AIDS, severe pain and seizures. The law allows a licensed marijuana patient to usually possess no more than six marijuana plants and two ounces of usable marijuana – much less than what the authorities found in Thomas and Larisa's house.

But Thomas wasn't just growing for himself, he was providing for other patients. Word had gotten around that Thomas was growing some good medicine, and many patients specified Thomas as their state-certified caregiver. Frank had been one of Thomas' patients; albeit one with whom Thomas had severed all ties because of a disagreement long before the cops came knocking on his door. At the time of the raid, Thomas estimates he was providing medicine for 11 licensed patients and about 20 more who were in the process of getting licensed – more than enough, he says, to legally justify his ganja garden.

The feds didn't see it that way. After mulling about the property for several hours, they confiscated all the marijuana, plus lights, heaters and books used in the operation. They allowed Thomas to keep his collection of one-of-a-kind bongs and roach clips. Thanks to the raid, Thomas and Larisa lost between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of property and gained a reputation around the neighborhood for being the focus of a federal drug bust. While Thomas and Larisa have not been charged with any crime, their property remains confiscated.

Weird Science

Whatever the officers hoped to gain from the raid, they didn't stop Thomas and Larisa from growing their medicine. Instead they caused these Curies of cannabis to go official – by starting the Colorado Compassion Club.

"We are not trying to say, 'How can we grow as much pot as we can,'" says Thomas. "We are trying to make sure patients and caregivers have some access to medicine, and make it as cost-effective as possible."

Today there are 587 people licensed to use medical marijuana in Colorado – 32 in Boulder – but the law doesn't specify how they are supposed to get the pot. The most obvious ways of doing so seem to be scoring a dime bag in Centennial Park or spending hundreds of dollars and six months growing pot from seed in a closet. But now, through Thomas and Larisa's Colorado Compassion Club, a rapidly growing consortium of about 70 patients and caregivers, there's another option.

Sorry, run-of-the-mill stoners: Prospective Colorado Compassion Club members need to be either licensed marijuana patients or in the process of obtaining a license. Thomas, Larisa or other caregivers in the club work with club patients, discussing their conditions and what type and dose of marijuana might be appropriate. Everything is recorded on extremely detailed paperwork – so if there's ever another raid, Thomas and Larisa will have proof they're not drug lords. The club provides members from Carson City to Grand Lake with medicine or helps them build and maintain their own grow rooms. It's all based on donations, and the club is hoping to get nonprofit status. If a member can't pay in cash, they volunteer time helping the club produce medicine, or donate clippings from their own plants, if they grow their own.

Thomas and Larisa's bungalow is the club's center of operations, a sort of communal hospital-cum-greenhouse-cum-pharmacy. Club members stop over all the time to help out, chill out or toke up. The living room feels like a rainforest, filled with large plants, ceremonial masks, roaming cats and dogs and an unmistakable aroma in the air. But the important greenery is downstairs, in a small room with bare white walls. This is where the magic happens.

"I think the love and care we put into the plants produces a different quality of medicine. You have to love the plant," says Thomas, as he stands in the basement room. Around his feet spreads a thick carpet of young marijuana plants, each labeled by type: Chocolate Chunk, Ultimate Indica, Chronic Maple Leaf, Humboldt Snow, G13, White Lightning – Thomas cracks up in the middle of listing the varieties – Bubblegum, Bubble Funk, Shiskaberry, Dutch Treat. A fan blows gently through the leaves and a large circular metal grow light hangs overhead, traveling slowly back and forth on a motorized track attached to the ceiling. There's a stereo in the corner – some volunteers like to play rock for the plants; Thomas prefers hip-hop.

In the room's closet, Thomas runs his genetics lab. Here, tiny plant clippings grow in small containers, all part of Thomas' experiments in cloning and cross-breeding cannabis to produce varieties with specific medicinal qualities – some to increase hunger, some to dull pain, some to ease muscle spasms.

When the plants are large enough, Thomas will move them to a large greenhouse in the backyard. There they will grow for most of the summer; when they're harvested, they'll probably be over 6 feet tall. Neighbors warn their kids to stay away from the unusual foliage poking over the fence.

Along with marijuana and hash for smoking, the club produces brownies, muffins and fudge, all made with a specific amount of cannabis, so patients can take regular dosages ("Take two pot brownies and call me in the morning"). While most tokers just use cannabis flowers, the Colorado Compassion Club also harvests the plant's leaves, which offer many of the same medicinal qualities with fewer of the intoxicating side effects. So if you don't feel like smoking, there's a myriad of other ways to take your medicine: teas, tinctures, topical rubs, lotions, cooking oils, creams, compresses and even hard candy.

"It doesn't have to be about sitting around and taking bong hits," says Larisa. "Though it is your right to do so."

If Thomas is the mad scientist in the basement, Larisa is Mother Theresa in the living room. She prefers working with patients, finding out how to best meet their needs, helping them cope. She says she's watched many people heal before her eyes.

Busted – Again

For Thomas and Larisa, running the Colorado Compassion Club is a full-time job – especially since they aren't about to receive much support from the local authorities.

Thomas learned this the hard way in January. He was driving home one evening when a cop pulled him over. The officer found an ounce of "Kahuna Salad" marijuana and two pipes in the glove compartment. Since Thomas didn't have his caregiver license on him, the cops were somewhat skeptical when he told them it was medicine.

Once again, Thomas' medicine was taken by the Man – but this time, he was determined to get it back. In February, Thomas walked into the police station with a court property disposition for his weed and his pipes. The police laughed in his face. They said his disposition was fake, that he was trying to steal illicit drugs from the cops. Not even a call from the city attorney's office could sway the officers. There was no way the Denver police were going to start handing out Mary Jane to needy citizens.

A month later, on March 4, Thomas returned to the police station, armed with a court order, his lawyer and the press. He picked up the phone in the station lobby and said, "Hi, I need to pick up some property."

This time the police were more cooperative. Thomas became the first person ever to receive drugs from the Denver police.

"What happened was a victory for all patients and caregivers in Colorado. It was a victory for everyone who voted to get the law enabled," says Thomas. The only problem with the returned medicine, Thomas told a journalist at the scene, was "It's a little dryer than I'd like."

Thomas and Larisa have big plans for the Colorado Compassion Club. Both are taking naturopath courses, and talk about creating a wellness center for the club where members will have access to health spas and even hospice rooms. Reaching that goal won't be easy, especially since the Colorado Compassion Club probably hasn't seen the last of its run-ins with the authorities.

One possible reason federal attorneys have yet to charge Thomas and Larissa for the 83 plants they found in their house last year could be because they are waiting for an upcoming decision in the Supreme Court case, Ashcroft vs. Raich, which will decide on the federal government's ability to supercede state medical marijuana laws. If the court rules in the fed's favor, people like Thomas and Larisa could be looking at federal prosecution – maybe even prison time.

Thomas isn't too worried. He doesn't expect to be thrown in the clink for growing some supreme weed.

"Here in Denver, I don't see them being able to convict me under a jury of my peers," he says, relaxing on his living room couch, while behind him a few visiting club members sit around the kitchen table, munching take-out fried chicken and packing a glass bong. "All I am trying to do is help people who can't help themselves."

The Change Agent

One September day in 1992, FBI Special Agent Jon Lipsky stood in the office of Ken Fimberg, assistant U.S. attorney for the state of Colorado. Lipsky and Fimberg had once been close friends, like brothers. The earnest, hardworking FBI agent and the aggressive, liberal-minded lawyer had teamed up to lead, in the summer of 1989, the first and only U.S. Justice Department raid on a Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear-weapons facility, the Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant located between Boulder and Denver. Three years later, the maligned investigation of Rocky Flats was itself being investigated, and Lipsky and Fimberg were barely on speaking terms.

The raid had led to Colorado's first special grand jury, to investigate alleged environmental crimes at Rocky Flats. After years of exhaustive study into operations at the 40-year-old nuclear weapons plant, the Justice Department announced in spring 1992 a plea agreement with Rocky Flats' operator, Rockwell International. In exchange for Rockwell paying an $18.5 million fine – less than the government bonuses the plant operator received while operating the plant – no Rockwell or DOE employees were charged with crimes and the numerous boxes of grand-jury evidence pertaining to alleged wrongdoings at Rocky Flats were locked in a vault, never to be shown to the public.

In response to public outcry over the plea bargain, Howard Wolpe (D-Mich) had announced he would head an investigation of the Justice Department's handling of the Rocky Flats raid. The Justice Department reacted by circling the wagons. There was only one problem: Jon Lipsky.

Of the government officials associated with the Rocky Flats investigation, Lipsky had become the Boy Scout of the group. He did not hide his displeasure over how the raid had turned out. Fimberg and other Justice Department staff met with Lipsky to allegedly tell him, "You're not stuck with how you felt before. Even today, your opinion can change." The FBI had arranged a special meeting for Lipsky with Bureau Director William Sessions. According to Lipsky, Sessions' message was clear: Do the FBI proud – keep your mouth shut.

The day before Lipsky was to speak for the second time to the Wolpe congressional subcommittee about Rocky Flats, Fimberg was meeting with Lipsky to seal the deal. Fimberg handed him an affidavit for him to sign. The affidavit allegedly stated that Lipsky agreed that there'd never been enough evidence to indict individuals at Rocky Flats. Lipsky believed there was enough evidence to indict individuals, but the investigation had been mysteriously cut short by the Justice Department. It appeared to Lipsky that he was being asked to lie.

Lipsky put his pen to the affidavit – but did not write his signature. Instead, on the back, in large, angry letters, he scrawled "Bullshit." He would never talk to Fimberg, his former friend, again. Lipsky told Congress there was enough evidence to indict individuals. He told Congress that he had been ordered to curtail his investigation of Rocky Flats. Soon after, Lipsky, one of the FBI's star environmental crime agents, was transferred to a gang unit in Los Angeles. His days working environmental crimes were over.

It would not be the last time that Lipsky would speak out against what he believes is a government cover-up of criminal wrongdoing and radioactive contamination at Rocky Flats – nor the last time he would suffer the consequences. Years later, when Congress voted to turn the site of the now-closed Rocky Flats into a wildlife refuge, Lipsky teamed up with a former Rocky Flats employee, the foreman of the Rocky Flats grand jury and an environmental lawyer to write the book, The Ambushed Grand Jury.

The four argued that the government knowingly distorted the truth about the extent of environmental contamination at the weapons plant, thereby seriously calling into question current plans to clean up and open Rocky Flats to the public. While the book made international headlines early last year, Lipsky, still with the FBI, remained out of the public limelight. When Lipsky attempted to go public with his concerns this past summer, he says he was muzzled by his superiors.

But now, for the first time, there's no one telling Lipsky what he can and cannot say. Having just retired early from the FBI, Lipsky has left the only job that ever really mattered to him so that he can tell the public what he believes they need to know about Rocky Flats. Sixteen years after this hotshot agent led the raid on the nuclear-weapons facility, he is finally ready to tell the world what he found.

Raid Gone Awry

Growing up, Lipsky knew he wanted to serve and protect the public. He'd inherited this trait from his father, an immigrant, who'd tried and failed to join the Detroit police department.

"My dad was my compass in my career decision," says Lipsky. "My dad said, 'If you are going to do that kind of work, work for the best.'" His dad was referring to the FBI.

While in college, Lipsky worked as a service employee for the Los Angeles FBI office. After college, to gain experience in the field, Lipsky worked as a street cop for the Las Vegas metropolitan police department. Finally, in February 1984, Lipsky's hard work paid off, and he became an FBI agent in Denver. It was the perfect job.

"We all want to do something meaningful, but we also want to be fulfilled, and this had the entire package," says Lipsky, Almost immediately, Lipsky was assigned to investigate environmental crimes, as a liaison to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – despite the fact he had no background in the subject.

"I guess because I used to write littering tickets as a cop they figured I'd have experience as an environmental investigator," says Lipsky. Despite his green feet, Lipsky and his EPA counterpart William Smith hit the ground running, winning some of the first convictions associated with the two agencies' still-fledgling partnership. Lipsky was already making a name for himself when he started hearing rumors in 1987 about a DOE nuclear-weapons plant outside of Denver that did top-secret work building plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, operated by a Fortune 500 company. Leaking barrels of toxic waste. Contaminated drinking water reservoirs. Tons of unaccounted-for weapons-grade plutonium hidden in the nooks and crannies of the facility. Lipsky and Smith teamed up with Fimberg in the Justice Department to prepare for a raid of the 6,500-acre Rock Flats.

Two years later, on June 6, 1989, "Operation Desert Glow" began, as Lipsky led 90 FBI and EPA agents into Rocky Flats, ready to investigate charges detailed in a 116-page affidavit. But even before the investigation started, Lipsky found the raid beginning to unravel. The Justice Department had insisted on telling DOE beforehand about the raid. Two months before the raid, the highest-level DOE official at the plant had been transferred to Washington, D.C.

Lipsky had gone to great lengths to legally seal the search-warrant affidavit, but three days after the sting U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh unsealed the documents to assure the public that "this investigation does not signal any major new environmental or safety concerns." Now Rocky Flats officials had the FBI's playbook. "When I found they were going to unseal that, I wasn't very happy," says Lipsky. "It was basically our game plan, the affidavit, and they could use it against us." Lipsky's superiors also restricted him and his investigators. Agents were blocked from looking into the cozy relationship between DOE and Rockwell. They were discouraged from following up on new leads regarding possible environmental crimes. And in March 1991, Lipsky was told to stop pursuing indictments against individuals at the plant. Lipsky realized something had gone terribly wrong.

"It made no sense," says Lipsky. "We were pursuing evidence against individuals the whole time. The corporation doesn't commit crimes by itself – it has people who do things."

While the investigation was going awry at the plant, the Rocky Flats grand jury that had been empanelled in August 1989 to review the evidence Lipsky and his team had collected also seemed to be foundering. Justice Department attorneys started dropping some of their most serious allegations against Rockwell. Then they began repeating evidence to the grand jury and instructing witnesses not to answer specific questions posed to them by jury members. Someone appeared to have tampered with the jurors' boxes of evidence.

The grand-jury members decided to take matters into their own hands in January 1992. According to a story leaked to Westword, they compiled an indictment charging three DOE officials and five Rockwell employees with environmental crimes and a presentment reiterating the accusations. They also wrote a report lambasting the conduct of DOE and Rocky Flats contractors for "engaging in a continuing campaign of distraction, deception and dishonesty" and noted that Rocky Flats, for many years, had discharged pollutants, hazardous materials and radioactive matter into nearby creeks and Broomfield's and Westminster's water supplies. It was a report that would never reach the public.

The grand jury handed over their indictment, presentment and report on March 24, 1992. Two days later, Colorado U.S. Attorney Mike Norton announced a plea agreement that was totally different than the indictment and presentment signed by the grand jury. Rockwell agreed to plead guilty to the Justice Department's indictment and to pay an $18.5 million fine. No individuals were charged with crimes. In public statements, Norton reportedly said, "I know of no evidence of physiological or environmental damage at all from the operations of the facility."

In September, a federal judge announced the grand jury's report would be sealed. Now if the grand jury, or Lipsky, spoke about what had transpired during the grand jury investigation, they could be found in violation of Federal Criminal Rule 6(e), which limits what grand-jury information can be released to the public.

That did not stop Lipsky from speaking his mind in September 1992 to the Wolpe congressional subcommittee. On Jan. 4, 1993, the Wolpe subcommittee released their report detailing Lipsky's concerns about the Justice Department's handling of the Rocky Flats investigation. Three weeks later Lipsky learned he was to be transferred from Denver to Los Angeles.

Never mind that Lipsky would never again work environmental crimes. Never mind that the FBI had announced they didn't have the money for any transfers that year. Never mind that Lipsky's daughter could soon require a major surgical procedure. Lipsky believed he was being punished. "I didn't toe the line. I was under oath, and I told the truth. That's the only thing I can think of," he says. "So they found the money and moved me."

Silent No More

In 2001 Lipsky received a memo from his superiors at the FBI. It noted that a lawyer from Santa Fe, N.M., Caron Balkany, had requested an interview with him about the investigation of Rocky Flats. The memo instructed Lipsky not to tell Balkany anything prejudicial about the Denver U.S. Attorney's Office, even though Lipsky believed the Denver U.S. Attorney's Office was responsible for a lot of the problems he saw with the Rocky Flats investigation. According to Lipsky, this was the first time he was ever ordered outright to lie about Rocky Flats. It was exactly the wrong thing Lipsky's superiors could have done. The FBI agent had a nasty habit of believing he worked for the people, not a few superiors. Lipsky immediately called Balkany.

"This is Jon Lipsky," he said. "I would like to talk to you..." Lipsky met Balkany in the lobby of a Los Angeles hotel. For years the FBI had refused to let Lipsky be interviewed about Rocky Flats. So this time he hadn't asked the Bureau's permission.

Lipsky told Balkany that he believed the unraveling of the Rocky Flats investigation wasn't due to a lack of evidence or incompetence. He believed it was an inside job.

"[The Justice Department] limited the types of crimes we could investigate, the time period we could investigate, the people who could be investigated. They even limited how we could use the law. And they cut off the investigation before we'd even really gotten started." Lipsky told Balkany. According to Lipsky, the Justice Department began discussing a settlement with Rockwell in late 1991 – without telling the Rocky Flats grand jury. In order to accept a plea bargain, said Lipsky, Rockwell demanded that there had to be no indictments of individuals, no grand-jury report, no charges serious enough that Rockwell would be banned from future government contracts.

To meet these demands, Justice Department officials stonewalled both the FBI investigation and the Rocky Flats grand jury. For years Lipsky had kept these thoughts to himself, but now he was ready to speak out. Soon the Rocky Flats site could be opened again – but where there had once been plutonium incinerators and top-secret laboratories, there would now be school groups on hiking trails, children hunting with bows and arrows.

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001 had earmarked the site of the former nuclear-weapons plant to become a wildlife refuge once the plant was certified clean, a $7-billion process scheduled to be completed by the end of 2006. But Lipsky believed that the extent of nuclear contamination at Rocky Flats, and the government's attempts to cover it up, precluded it from becoming a safe place for public recreation.

"[The Justice Department was] just using me – using me so when they settled the case, they could say they'd done a complete investigation," said Lipsky to Balkany. "And now that they've calmed down the public about Rocky Flats, they can encourage people to believe it's safe to let kids play there. And that's just crazy. It's dangerous for any of us, adults or kids. Rocky Flats is no place to play around. It's a closed-down nuclear-weapons plant, not a playground."

Lipsky soon learned that Balkany wasn't alone. She was working with two ghosts from his past, people who also believed there was more to the Rocky Flats investigation than the government told the public. One was Jacque Brever, a former Rocky Flats employee who had been one of the main witnesses in the Justice Department's case against Rockwell and DOE. Brever had faced death threats and worse for testifying to the grand jury about alleged crimes at Rocky Flats, only to be labeled by Justice Department officials as an unreliable witness.

The other familiar face was Wes McKinley, a Colorado rancher who was the foreman of the Rocky Flats grand jury. For years McKinley had been stifled from talking about what happened during the investigation because of grand-jury secrecy rules. Together, the three had banded together to discover the truth about Rocky Flats, calling themselves the Citizens' Grand Jury. They asked Lipsky to join them – and he agreed.

Together the four unusual compatriots spent years pouring over countless boxes of documents, looking for proof that the Justice Department had covered up environmental crimes at Rocky Flats. They detailed their results in their 2004 book, The Ambushed Grand Jury: How the Justice Department Covered Up Government Nuclear Crimes and How We Caught Them Red Handed. The book received international attention, with Balkany, Brever and McKinley featured on media around the globe. But not Lipsky. As an FBI agent, he was still discouraged from speaking to the public about Rocky Flats.

Despite protests by the Citizens' Grand Jury, not to mention by many local citizens, activists and public officials, the cleanup plan for Rocky Flats went forward unfazed. Late in 2004, government officials announced that the Rocky Flats wildlife refuge will definitely be open to the public. Eventually, Lipsky decided to stop holding his tongue. The Citizens' Grand Jury announced Lipsky would go public for the first time about the Rocky Flats investigation at a Denver press conference on Aug. 18. But at the last minute, as he and his family were driving into Denver, Lipsky received a phone call from the FBI.

"I was ordered not to talk about the investigation, even though it was public record," says Lipsky. "And it was told to me that the [FBI] director doesn't like surprises and it would be good probably for the L.A. office that I consider not even going to the press conference." Matt McLaughlin, supervisor in charge of special projects at the L.A. FBI office, says no one banned Lipsky from speaking. McLaughlin says Lipsky was just informed he had not gone through the proper administrative channels before speaking to the public, and was warned not to violate grand-jury secrecy rules. "He was not ordered not to speak," says McLaughlin. "He just needed to weigh very carefully what he wanted to say."

Lipsky attended the press conference, but once again he remained silent on Rocky Flats. It would be the last time. On Friday, Dec. 31, Lipsky retired from the FBI.

Now no one would be able to shut him up.

The Criticality Factor

During Operation Desert Glow, Lipsky would sometimes wander the Rocky Flats facilities, hoping that a potential whistleblower would find the guts to approach him. One day, it worked.

An analyst pulled Lipsky aside and showed him a thick binder of documents. "Wow, look at these elevated strontium readings," said the analyst. "Wonder what that's from?"

To Lipsky, the readings didn't make sense. Strontium is a manmade radioactive element produced by splitting atoms. Rocky Flats just processed plutonium – it did not have a nuclear reactor or accelerator that split atoms. One of the other ways large amounts of strontium could appear in Rocky Flats was if the plant was conducting secret experiments involving the element, of if there had been a "criticality" – an uncontrolled nuclear accident that released lethal amounts of radiation.

Rocky Flats officials had long denied rumors of a criticality, which could be caused by storing too much plutonium in one place. If there had been a criticality or strontium experiments at the plant, Lipsky believes the current cleanup of the plant wouldn't account for it, which means hazardous byproducts from such an event would still be there when the site is opened to the public. Lipsky never found out what the strontium readings he'd seen meant. The Justice Department was already pursuing a settlement at the time and discouraged him from following the lead.

This was not the only time reports of elevated strontium levels at Rocky Flats surfaced. In 1989, EPA officials expressed concern about discovering strontium and another man-made radioactive element, cesium, in underground water at the plant. According to press reports, EPA official Nathaniel J. Miullo implied at the time the elements may have been buried in the soil. In 1996, a citizen committee conducting soil and sediment sampling at Rocky Flats found elevated strontium levels in subsurface soil in several locations around the plant, in some places three times the average background levels of strontium for the region. In their report, the committee noted that the strontium could have been caused by undocumented strontium experiments or a criticality accident.

Not everyone today is concerned about reports of strontium at Rocky Flats. Miullo, in a recent interview, said the strontium levels discovered in 1989 were low enough that they might have been background levels of strontium, which is found all over the world in varying degrees because of fallout from nuclear bomb tests.

"It would be very difficult to determine whether it was a source of natural background or something that might have been disposed of through the wastewater treatment system that might have gotten into some of the creeks, or was disposed of through solid waste," says Miullo.

Neils Schonbeck, a member of a governor-appointed Rocky Flats health advisory panel who was involved in the citizen sampling study in 1996, says that his committee's strontium findings were too isolated and insignificant to suggest a criticality with any certainty.

According to Karen Lutz, DOE spokeswoman, "Extensive sampling for radionuclides in soil, sediment and water has been conducted since the early '90s. Over the past 15 years we have extensively characterized the soil and water for radionuclides (including strontium), metals and organics. Strontium is not found at levels that require cleanup or any other environmental action."

Mark Aguilar, the EPA's Rocky Flats coordinator, says his agency has also tested the site for strontium. Most evidence of the element were consistent with background levels, says Aguilar, and any elevated amounts that were found were likely linked to two well-publicized noncriticality accidents at the plant, major fires in 1957 and 1969. Lipsky and the rest of the Citizens' Grand Jury say the strontium issue is just one of many examples they've found that the DOE and Justice Department overlooked or purposefully ignored possible evidence of plutonium and other hazardous-waste contamination at Rocky Flats.

While government officials have long denied charges that Rocky Flats employees illegally ran Building 771's aging plutonium incinerator when it was supposed to be shut down – one of the central charges of the FBI investigation – the Citizens' Grand Jury has said it has found considerable evidence that the incinerator was run illegally and that the plutonium-contaminated byproduct was stored secretly on-site for years. The Citizens' Grand Jury also says that internal Rocky Flats memos and former plant employees indicate that the facility burned mixed radioactive waste in two fluid bed incinerators, even though Rocky Flats was never permitted to do so and Justice Department officials swore to the Court, under oath, that the incinerators were never used.

Another smoking gun, says the Citizens' Grand Jury, is evidence that the facility secretly sprayed hazardous and radioactive waste on the site that contaminated area groundwater and drinking water. The Citizens' Grand Jury says that the extent of pollution caused by these incidents has not been addressed in the cleanup and could still be there when the site is opened to the public. But officials associated with the Justice Department and the cleanup say the Citizens' Grand Jury's evidence is not cause for concern.

"Our cleanup is based on extensive documentation of the site, hundreds of interviews with current and former workers and tens of thousands of samples. Every aspect of this cleanup has been thoroughly investigated and has been independently verified through government and nongovernment agencies, all in full public view," says Lutz.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the Denver U.S. Attorney's Office, says concerns about the 16-year-old investigation of Rocky Flats, whether founded or not, have little bearing on the current cleanup of the site. "The purpose of that criminal investigation was to determine whether federal law had been violated and who, if anyone, would be held responsible for that violation. You don't develop an effective cleanup plan by conducting a criminal investigation. And a criminal investigation is not a fundamental part of a cleanup plan," says Dorschner.

Aguilar agrees that the FBI investigation of Rocky Flats is just a small part of the massive investigation and cleanup of the plant. "I think that's what started the investigation, but we've gone light years past what was done in 1989," says Aguilar. He notes that while he does not know if the Citizen Grand Jury's allegations of criminal misconduct at Rocky Flats are true, cleanup officials have tested the site extensively for any contamination that might have been caused by such activities and have thoroughly treated any areas of concern.

But Lipsky and his compatriots say failures in the past to identify environmental contamination at Rocky Flats could very well have an impact on the current cleanup – especially since it would not look good for the government to admit the cleanup is less than thorough. They say government officials need the good P.R. as Washington mulls the possibility of opening a "Rocky Flats II" somewhere else in the country. "You have to doubt the Department of Energy and what they are doing," says Lipsky. "The past has an impact, and it's a reflection of what's going to happen in the future."

No Rules

On a recent snowy morning, Lipsky sat quietly in the dining room of a Denver hotel with Balkany, Brever and McKinley. Soon Lipsky would go in front of the television cameras, reporters and photographers and, for the first time, say what he's been wanting to say for 16 years. He would tell the world why he'd left his dream job: to expose a possible government cover-up at Rocky Flats and push for a more thorough cleanup of the site. For the first time, there are no rules.

While Lipsky is setting out into uncharted territory, the Citizens' Grand Jury is there to support him – and they have a few new tricks up their sleeve. McKinley now has a new title: state representative-elect. In November, McKinley won Colorado's Representative District 64, and now he's hoping to pull some strings regarding Rocky Flats. McKinley plans to introduce a bill that will require visitors to the Rocky Flats wildlife to learn about the dangers of plutonium exposure and sign a release noting they are aware of the risks of visiting the site.

"It would be dangerous to do less than that at Rocky Flats," says McKinley. "Everyone that goes out there, they need to be educated about what plutonium does, what happened in that area. It's part of our country. It's a legacy."

While some may say Lipsky and others are fighting a losing battle against Rocky Flats, many are refusing to give up the fight. The Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, working with Citizens' Grand Jury members, is planning on filing a petition with the federal court to release some of the Rocky Flats Grand Jury documents that have been sealed away.

As for Lipsky, the future is unusually uncertain. While he expects to receive retirement benefits from the FBI, that does not mean the decision to leave was easy. The FBI will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2008, and Lipsky will miss not being a part of it. But Lipsky knows he hasn't reneged on the three qualities required of an agent for the FBI: fidelity, bravery, integrity. Far from it, in fact. Lipsky is applying to become a private investigator in California. And he will continue to speak out for what he believes is the truth about Rocky Flats. His father taught him to serve the people, and that's just what he's going to do. "I guess I am on a mission," says Lipsky. That's all I can say."

The Dry Party

Earl Dodge, 71, has never tasted alcohol. Not a gulp of beer. Not a sip of wine. Not a swig of whiskey or a sniff of brandy. But that doesn't mean he doesn't know a thing or two about alcohol's vile aftertaste.

"I've never had cancer either, but I know it's something bad," says Dodge.

Growing up in a teetotalling Baptist family in Malden, Mass., Dodge read grisly stories in the paper about drunkards killing their best friends. He'd walk by taverns, and the smell from inside would just about knock him over.

But the truth about alcohol came when a teenage Dodge began helping out at a rescue mission in Boston. He assumed the alcoholics he'd be helping would be the stereotypical bums off the street. Instead, he stared into the rheumy eyes of priests, lawyers and other high-ranking members of society, all laid low by the evils of the demon drink.

Five decades later, Dodge, aka "Mr. Prohibition," is waging practically a one-man crusade against liquid licentiousness, one of the last vestiges of a once-mighty reform movement that (at least officially) dried up the nation's beer taps for 13 years.

Out of his unlikely home base of Lakewood, Colo., a state where microbreweries dot the hills, the capitol's mayor owns seven bars and the golden boy of one of the world's biggest beer companies is running for one of the highest posts in the land, Dodge is stumping for president of the United States – for the sixth time – on the Prohibition Party ticket.

While his campaign might lack the greenbacks and glitzy ads of the two major presidential candidates, Dodge and the 2004 Prohibition Party rank with the big leagues with its share of scandalous internal controversies and colorful characters. And despite the minor roadblock of the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, Dodge and his supporters say their fight is far from over, and that, sooner or later, Alabama Slammers, Long Island Iced Teas, Manhattans, Irish Car Bombs, Tequila Sunrises, Three Wise Men and all the rest will be a thing of the past.

The Saloon Must Go

Dodge's brown brick home in Lakewood is the official Prohibition Party campaign headquarters, but you wouldn't know it from outside. There are no yard signs out front promoting the party's 2004 ticket (Dodge for president and Howard Lydick for vice president), just a banner telling passersby to support our troops. If he's home, Dodge will most likely show you into the green-carpeted den and offer you tea or coffee – though no G-and-T's, thank you very much.

Once settled in, get ready for a long afternoon. After all, as Dodge says with a characteristic amiability, "My mother told me as a boy that I was vaccinated with a telegraph needle, so I tend to go on."

It's here, among over-stuffed bookshelves, old file cabinets, several computers and a small shrine to Calvin Coolidge, that Dodge runs the Prohibition Party. Forced to drop out of school in 10th grade after his father passed away, Dodge's career has run the gamut from insurance salesman to cemetery-plot hawker. But since 1957, give or take a year or three, his main occupation has been acting as either the national chairman or executive secretary of the Prohibition Party. Since the 1980s, he's voluntarily run the party without salary.

Dodge's charity is possible thanks to his side business – collecting and selling political buttons and other political memorabilia at trade shows and on the Internet.

"Probably we have the largest collection in the country today," says Dodge of his wares, ranging from Socialist Party pins to a Franklin D. Roosevelt thermometer.

Somehow Dodge also finds time to run the 800-member Dodge Family Association, which he operates out of another room down the hall.

The current state of the Prohibition Party is less than imposing. In 2000, Dodge's presidential campaign garnered only 208 votes, down from Dodge's personal high of 14,000 votes during his first campaign and the worst showing by the party in nearly 130 years. The party's convention last year, where Dodge was nominated for president, totaled nine people, two of whom were Dodge's daughters. Colorado is the only state left that lists the Prohibition Party on its ballot.

It's sometimes hard to imagine that the Prohibition Party, the nation's oldest third party, was once a force to be reckoned with. The party was formed in 1869 by those concerned that Democrats and Republicans were ignoring moral issues – most notably alcohol, which churches had been labeling a social ill for decades.

With a two-humped pachyderm as mascot and the ax-wielding temperance zealot Carry A. Nation as its most notable representative, the Prohibitionist Party would go on to win more than 100,000 votes in each election from 1884 to 1920. There were Prohibitionist sheriffs and mayors, congress members and governors. And then came the party's crowning achievement in 1920: the 18th Amendment, which launched Prohibition.

Unfortunately for the Prohibition Party and other temperance folks, the Noble Experiment failed – at least according to most sources today. After 13 years of alleged rum running, bootlegging, drive-by shootings and other cinematic lawlessness, the 21st Amendment killed Prohibition – and with it the Prohibition Party. The last party candidate to be elected to office was in 1959.

"Prohibition as a general concept, historically, doesn't work. It did bring us NASCAR, which is a good thing. People seem to love that," says Stephen Powell, an expert on drinking in American culture. (Hard-driving rum runners became the first NASCAR drivers.)

"Basically [Prohibition supporters] lost their fire. They had their chance, and they failed. And I don't think anyone was particularly interested in trying to resurrect another movement to bring that legislated morality back. They lost popular support and just faded into the background as a bunch of whiners."

Dodge begs to differ.

"All of the facts and figures show that it did work," he says. "For the most part, the media is taking liquor-company advertising and painting the Prohibition era as an era of unparalleled lawlessness."

Prohibition was far from a smorgasbord of mobsters and Tommy guns, says Dodge. He points out that, during this period, U.S. alcohol consumption dropped by 70 percent, prison populations declined by 52 percent in some states, bank deposits soared from $15.8 billion to $28.9 billion and the fatality rate for cirrhosis of the liver plummeted by more than 50 percent. He adds that by the time Prohibition took effect, a majority of states already had prohibition laws. Dodge also says the amendment's repeal was caused not by public outcry but by behind-the-scenes dealings by the Roosevelt administration.

And despite the fact that the Prohibition movement is nearly ancient history, Dodge says the dangers of alcohol are more pressing than ever. Dodge says there are 11 million alcoholics in the country today, and that liquor leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damages annually. It's ironic, says Dodge, that the government allows this destruction while banning drugs like marijuana, heroin and cocaine, which cause much less damage.

Despite its name, however, the Prohibition Party is about a lot more than just the devil's drink.

"The majority of the reforms that most people think are good were started by the Prohibition Party," says Dodge. Since its founding, the Prohibition Party supported the right for both women and African Americans to be able to vote and the direct election of U.S. Senators.

The 2004 Prohibition Party platform spans eight pages. Along with a return to Prohibition, it calls for, among other things, an amendment requiring Washington to balance the federal budget, a return to the gold standard, terminating the Federal Reserve, closing the gap between church and state, abolishing the Department of Education, researching the possibility of banning all immigration and, above all else, a limited federal government. The last platform issue might seem surprising, considering Prohibition seems to entail increased government control over citizens.

"We believe the greatest threat to personal freedom is big government. The government can't be a nanny," says Dodge. "But alcohol is a different class. The costs have to be paid by the entire population. It just impacts every area of our life."

Dry vs. Dry

Dodge's race to the White House faces an added hurdle this year: Colorado voters will find two Prohibition tickets on their presidential ballot, that of Dodge and Lydick, and that of Gene Amondson and Leroy Pletton.

The dueling tickets are the result of internal struggles within the Prohibition Party that led to what some members are calling a rift. While several Prohibition Party members gathered at Dodge's house in the summer of 2003 and nominated him as their presidential candidate, a different group of people met that fall at a time share in Tennessee, calling Dodge's nomination void and coming up with their own ticket. While these dissidents have been forced to call themselves the Concerns of the People (Prohibition) Party, they say they are the true standard-bearers for the dry movement.

"This really is the Prohibition Party, which was organized in 1869 and has run candidates on the national slate every election since 1872," says James Hedges, a retired Marine Corps tuba player and one of the leaders of the breakaway group. "There has been a dispute over management of the party, and the other faction got the prohibition name first on the ballot, but we don't have the money for lawyers to sue each other, so we just adopted this other name."

Hedges and others say Dodge has helped drive the Prohibition Party into the ground, refusing to share control of the party and making financial decisions that are questionable at best. The smoking gun, says Hedges, is that Dodge sold the former Prohibition Party headquarters, a Denver condo, in 1999 to the tune of $120,000. While he promised to use the proceeds to build an addition on his home to house party headquarters, Hedges says all that's been built on Dodge's property is a garden shed.

"So we're wondering where the $119,500 is, allowing him $500 for the garden shed," says Hedges. "He needs to welcome new people into the party, and he needs to share responsibility so they have something to do, and he has to have financial transparency."

For their own presidential choice, the Concerns of the People (Prohibition) Party turned to Gene Amondson, a minister, painter and self-described "world's best pie maker" from Washington state who has a habit of touring the country re-enacting temperance sermons by famous ballplayer-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday or dressing up as the Grim Reaper and shaking an empty bottle of Jim Beam.

Despite the differences between Dodge and Amondson, the two prohibition parties' platforms are nearly identical.

"Earl Dodge and I both are agreed," says Amondson. "Even though our party is kind of split right now, we both know that dumb people drink, and we've got to get that message across."

Dodge has little regard for his new opposition.

"It's not a split from our party," he says. "It's just a couple of people. Sort of like a flea on an elephant that's trying to use our name to get some attention."

Dodge labels the heads of the dissidents, Hedges included, as disgruntled folks who were either kicked out or voted out of the Prohibition Party leadership. Dodge adds that most of their members, such as Amondson, have never been part of the Prohibition Party, and that those who were gave very little to the party in terms of funding or support. As for the party headquarters fiasco, Dodge says proceeds from selling the Denver condo went into a Prohibition Party investment fund and that he did build an addition onto his house to make room for the party office.

Howard Lydick, Dodge's vice presidential running mate, is also critical of the dissident group, but says the infighting is a good sign.

"I have been in active organized politics since 1947, and I am used to splits and people breaking off. We certainly had enough of those in the Republican Party in the past 50 years," he says. "[This division has] told me that [we're] not a pressure group, but a bona fide political party."

There's another reason why Dodge and his compatriots might appreciate the controversy. Thanks to the hullabaloo, the normally media-starved Prohibition Party has once again found itself in the national spotlight. CNN, NPR, the New York Times, the New Yorker and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have all featured the unusual political clash.

With regards to the media attention, Dodge just smiles and quotes the old adage, "I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right." After all, no matter what the newscasters and newshounds say, it will likely mean Dodge will beat his low of 208 votes come Nov. 2.

Tremble, King Alcohol

Members of both parties contending for the Prohibition mantle agree that the dry movement has suffered primarily because the elections have been rigged against third parties. They say the Democratic and Republican parties worked together to require prohibitively large numbers of signatures in order for third-party candidates to get on the ballots in most states. Colorado alone has not adopted these measures. Dodge and others are pushing to abolish such requirements.

"The main parties feel that the votes, by divine right, are theirs. And they feel if someone like Nader or Earl Dodge comes along, they are spoilers. If a third party has support in a state, the major parties work to suppress them," says Dodge.

Even if the Prohibition Party continues its slide into a footnote in the history books, Dodge believes Big Alcohol is actually on the run. The number of people who drink is down. Age limits and drunk-driving standards are becoming stricter. Major alcohol companies are diversifying into other interests, as if they know booze isn't a good long-term investment. While the first prohibition was based on moral issues, Dodge believes the next prohibition, like the crackdown on smoking, will be based on health issues.

"I think we are moving in the direction of prohibition," says Dodge. "I don't think it will be an amendment like we had before. I think it will gradually come about because people will finally say it is a health hazard, and eventually I think the FDA will regulate it, and then at some point, it will be voted out of existence."

Dodge doesn't harbor any illusions. He knows the only way he's likely to see the inside of the White House is on a public tour. And he knows he'll probably never see another prohibition in his lifetime. But he stands true to the maxim printed in every Prohibition Party newsletter: "A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman thinks of the next generation."

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