Tag Archives: u.s. government

Native American protesters occupy land in Dakota pipeline dispute

Native American protesters on Monday occupied privately owned land in North Dakota in the path of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, claiming they were the land’s rightful owners under an 1851 treaty with the U.S. government.

The move is significant because the company building the 1,100-mile (1,886-km) oil pipeline, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP, has bought tracts of land and relied on eminent domain to clear a route for the line across four states from North Dakota to Illinois.

Video posted on social media showed police officers using pepper spray to try to disperse dozens of protesters, who chanted, beat drums and set up a makeshift camp near the town of Cannon Ball in southern North Dakota, where the $3.8 billion pipeline would be buried underneath the Missouri River.

The area is near the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. It was not immediately known who owns the occupied land.

In September, the U.S. government halted construction on part of the line.

The Standing Rock Sioux and environmental activists have said further construction would damage historical tribal sacred sites and spills would foul drinking water.

Since then, opponents have pressured the government to reroute construction. The current route runs within half a mile of the reservation.

Protesters on Monday said the land in question was theirs under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, which was signed by eight tribes and the U.S. government. Over the last century, tribes have challenged this treaty and others like it in court for not being honored or for taking their land.

“We have never ceded this land. If Dakota Access Pipeline can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland,” Joye Braun of the Indigenous Environmental Network said in a prepared statement.

Energy Transfer could not be reached for comment.

Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. said the proposed route should be changed.

“The best way to resolve this is to reroute this pipeline and for the (Obama) administration to not give an easement to build it near our sacred land,” Archambault said in an interview.

In filings with federal regulators, the company said at one point it considered running the line far north of the reservation and close to Bismarck, the state capital.

Yahoo built secret software to scan customer emails for U.S. intelligence

Yahoo Inc. last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.

Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.

According to the two former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc.

“Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” the company said in a brief statement in response to Reuters questions about the demand.

Yahoo declined any further comment.

Through a Facebook spokesman, Stamos declined a request for an interview.

The NSA referred questions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which declined to comment.

The demand to search Yahoo Mail accounts came in the form of a classified directive sent to the company’s legal team, according to the three people familiar with the matter.

U.S. phone and Internet companies are known to have handed over bulk customer data to intelligence agencies. But some former government officials and private surveillance experts said they had not previously seen either such a broad directive for real-time Web collection or one that required the creation of a new computer program.

“I’ve never seen that, a wiretap in real time on a ‘selector,'” said Albert Gidari, a lawyer who represented phone and Internet companies on surveillance issues for 20 years before moving to Stanford University this year. A selector refers to a type of search term used to zero in on specific information.

“It would be really difficult for a provider to do that,” he added.

Experts said it was likely that the NSA or FBI had approached other Internet companies with the same demand, since they evidently did not know what email accounts were being used by the target.

The NSA usually makes requests for domestic surveillance through the FBI, so it is hard to know which agency is seeking the information.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether the 2015 demand went to other companies, or if any complied.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp, two major U.S. email service providers, did not respond to requests for comment.

CHALLENGING THE NSA

Under laws including the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, intelligence agencies can ask U.S. phone and Internet companies to provide customer data to aid foreign intelligence-gathering efforts for a variety of reasons, including prevention of terrorist attacks.

Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and others have exposed the extent of electronic surveillance and led U.S. authorities to modestly scale back some of the programs, in part to protect privacy rights.

Companies including Yahoo have challenged some classified surveillance before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal.

Some FISA experts said Yahoo could have tried to fight last year’s directive on at least two grounds: the breadth of the demand and the necessity of writing a special program to search all customers’ emails in transit.

Apple Inc made a similar argument earlier this year when it refused to create a special program to break into an encrypted iPhone used in the 2015 San Bernardino massacre. The FBI dropped the case after it unlocked the phone with the help of a third party, so no precedent was set.

Other FISA experts defended Yahoo’s decision to comply, saying nothing prohibited the surveillance court from ordering a search for a specific term instead of a specific account. So-called “upstream” bulk collection from phone carriers based on content was found to be legal, they said, and the same logic could apply to Web companies’ mail.

As tech companies become better at encrypting data, they are likely to face more such requests from spy agencies.

Former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker said email providers “have the power to encrypt it all, and with that comes added responsibility to do some of the work that had been done by the intelligence agencies.”

SECRET SIPHONING PROGRAM

Mayer and other executives ultimately decided to comply with the directive last year rather than fight it, in part because they thought they would lose, said the people familiar with the matter.

Yahoo in 2007 had fought a FISA demand that it conduct searches on specific email accounts without a court-approved warrant. Details of the case remain sealed, but a partially redacted published opinion showed Yahoo’s challenge was unsuccessful.

Some Yahoo employees were upset about the decision not to contest the more recent directive and thought the company could have prevailed, the sources said.

They were also upset that Mayer and Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell did not involve the company’s security team in the process, instead asking Yahoo’s email engineers to write a program to siphon off messages containing the character string the spies sought and store them for remote retrieval, according to the sources.

The sources said the program was discovered by Yahoo’s security team in May 2015, within weeks of its installation. The security team initially thought hackers had broken in.

When Stamos found out that Mayer had authorized the program, he resigned as chief information security officer and told his subordinates that he had been left out of a decision that hurt users’ security, the sources said. Due to a programming flaw, he told them hackers could have accessed the stored emails.

Stamos’s announcement in June 2015 that he had joined Facebook did not mention any problems with Yahoo. (http://bit.ly/2dL003k)

In a separate incident, Yahoo last month said “state-sponsored” hackers had gained access to 500 million customer accounts in 2014. The revelations have brought new scrutiny to Yahoo’s security practices as the company tries to complete a deal to sell its core business to Verizon Communications Inc for $4.8 billion.

A man walks past a Yahoo logo during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain in this February 24, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo
A man walks past a Yahoo logo during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain in this February 24, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo

Feds: organic cat litter may have caused radiation release at U.S. nuclear dump

The investigation into a February radiation release from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico has turned to a seemingly unusual suspect: cat litter.

Federal officials have zeroed in on a barrel of waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory as the source of the leak, and one theory is that a change in the type of cat litter that it was packed with caused a leak that contaminated 22 workers with low levels of radiation on Feb. 14, shuttering the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico, indefinitely.

State environment officials now say more than 500 barrels of waste from decades of nuclear bomb-making at Los Alamos were packed the same way, and they are concerned that the barrels scattered between the underground dump, Los Alamos’ northern New Mexico campus and a commercial disposal site in West Texas pose a potentially “imminent and substantial” danger to public health and the environment.

Here are questions and answers about the waste:

WHY WAS CAT LITTER USED IN THE FIRST PLACE?

The cat litter was used to absorb moisture in sealed barrels of nuclear waste at Los Alamos, home to the some of the world’s finest scientists. Officials have said cat litter has long been used to pack waste because of its absorption and neutralizing qualities. It’s commonly used, for example, by people to soak up oil spills in driveways. But Los Alamos switched from nonorganic to organic litter for packing waste in 2013, and the theory is that some kind of chemical reaction occurred between waste containing nitrate salts and the new litter. Officials said they are investigating who made the decision to make the switch and what process was followed.

HOW CAN CAT LITTER POSE SUCH A DANGER?

Investigators have said the litter theory is just one possible cause being explored, but it is being studied seriously enough to prompt New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn this week to order Los Alamos and the underground nuclear dump to put together plans for immediately isolating all 500-plus barrels of waste known to contain nitrate salts and organic cat litter. Based on evidence from crews that have been down in the mine since the release, a barrel of waste from Los Alamos experienced some type of “heat event” that burned the exterior and popped the waste container’s lid.

HOW MANY CONTAINERS WERE PACKED LIKE THIS AND WHERE ARE THEY?

More than 500, according to state regulators. More than 350 of the containers are already at the subterranean dump, in storage rooms carved into ancient salt beds a half mile below the ground. Fifty-seven are still on the campus of Los Alamos, which had been working under orders to remove the last of thousands of such containers from outdoor storage by the end of June. The waste came to the public’s attention three years ago as a massive wildfire lapped at the edges of lab property. More than 100 more barrels are at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas, where they were sent for temporary storage as Los Alamos worked to remove the waste following the radiation leak.

COULD THE OTHER BARRELS BE TICKING TIME BOMBS?

That question has state regulators concerned. Flynn this week ordered Los Alamos to submit plans for ensuring the 57 containers of questionably packed waste still on its campus are isolated and secure. The lab said it has packed them in special containers, placed them under a dome with a fire extinguishing system and is closely monitoring them. Waste Control Specialists has taken similar precautions. As for the more than 350 containers already at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Flynn has ordered the U.S. Department of Energy to expedite plans for sealing off the underground rooms where the waste is stored. Complicating that effort is the laborious investigative process. The cause of the leak has not yet been determined. Crews have been able to make about two trips a week into the area where the leak occurred, but it’s a painstaking process and they are still working to see if other containers have been breached.

U.S. agency to consider endangered species protections for emperor penguin

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today (Jan. 22) said the emperor penguin may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The most ice-dependent of all penguin species, emperor penguins are threatened by the loss of their sea-ice habitat and declining food availability off Antarctica, according to a statement from the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

“Our carbon pollution is melting the sea-ice habitat emperor penguins need to survive,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the center. “Emperor penguins are the icons of wild Antarctica, and they need rapid cuts in carbon pollution and Endangered Species Act protections if they’re going to have a future.”

Emperor penguins rely on sea ice for raising their chicks and foraging. In parts of Antarctica where sea ice is rapidly disappearing, emperor penguin populations are declining or have been lost entirely. The emperor penguin colony featured in the film March of the Penguins has declined by more than 50 percent, and the Dion Island colony in the Antarctic Peninsula has disappeared. One recent study projected that nearly half of the world’s emperor penguins may disappear by mid-century without drastic cuts in carbon pollution.

Warming ocean temperatures and melting sea ice in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica have also diminished the availability of krill — a key food source for emperor penguins. Ocean acidification resulting from the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide and industrial krill fisheries further threaten the penguins’ food supply.

In 2006, the center petitioned the U.S. government to list 12 penguin species, including the emperor penguin, as threatened or endangered. Fish and Wildlife protected seven penguin species but denied protection to the emperor penguin.

In 2011, the center again petitioned for protections for the emperor based on new scientific information demonstrating the species is imperiled. In today’s finding, Fish and Wildlife agreed to conduct a full review to determine if the emperor penguin should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Listing of the emperor penguin would offer greater protections against the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change and the industrial overfishing of key prey species, according to the center. For example, if penguins are listed, future approval of fishing permits for U.S.-flagged vessels operating on the high seas would require minimization of impacts on penguins. The act also compels federal agencies to ensure that their actions — including those generating large volumes of carbon pollution — do not jeopardize endangered species and their habitat.

Wal-Mart charged with labor violations

Federal officials filed a formal complaint this week charging that Wal-Mart violated the rights of workers who took part in protests and strikes against the company.

The National Labor Relations Board says Wal-Mart illegally fired, disciplined or threatened more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in legally protected activities to complain about wages and working conditions at the nation’s largest retailer.

The labor board’s general counsel first laid out similar charges in November, but held off on filing a complaint while trying to work out a settlement with Wal-Mart. Those discussions were not successful, government officials said in a statement.

The company has insisted its actions were legal and justified.

“We now we have the opportunity to present the facts of these cases in front of a judge,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan. “No reasonable person thinks it’s ok for people to come and go from their scheduled shift without being held accountable.”

The protests in 2012 were organized by the union-backed group OUR Walmart, which has spent years pressing Wal-Mart to increase wages and benefits and make it easier for workers to organize a union. The group claims the majority of Wal-Mart associates are paid less than $25,000 a year.

Wal-Mart has until Jan. 28 to respond to the complaint. The case will then go before an administrative law judge. If Wal-Mart is found liable, it could be required to award workers back pay, reinstatement and reverse any disciplinary action. But the company could still try to work out a settlement as the case goes forward.

“We’ve never seen a complaint against Walmart of this size or scope, and we’re glad the NLRB is taking action,” said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice, one of the groups critical of Wal-Mart. “Walmart’s attacks on its own employees and cannot go unchecked.”

The complaint alleges that In November 2012, Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar went on CBS News and said there would be “consequences” for workers who engaged in strikes and protests ahead of Black Friday, the big shopping day after Thanksgiving. Similar comments were made to employees at Wal-Mart stores in California and Texas, the complaint said.

Thousands of people – including dozens of Wal-Mart workers – went forward with protests at Wal-Mart stores around the country. The company ultimately fired 19 workers who took part, despite the fact that their actions were protected by the National Labor Relations Act, the complaint said.

The NLRB complaint further alleges that Wal-Mart unlawfully threatened, disciplined or terminated workers for engaging in protected strikes and protests in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington.

Wal-Mart also illegally threatened, disciplined or fired employees at stores in California, Florida, Missouri and Texas in response to other worker activity that is protected by labor laws, the complaint alleged.

Right-wing groups wrestle to control GOP agenda

Virtually unknown outside Washington, a coalition of hard-line conservative groups is fighting to seize control of the Republican agenda. Tea party allies like the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America showed their might by insisting that the GOP embrace the government shutdown that hurt the nation’s economy and the party’s reputation.

Now emboldened, these groups are warning that their aggressive agenda-pushing tactics aren’t over — and they’re threatening retribution against Republicans who stand in their way.

“They refuse to learn,” Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman who leads the Club for Growth, says of lawmakers who buck the will of right-leaning groups. His group is already seeking or supporting primary challengers for 10 congressional Republican incumbents seeking re-election next fall.

Mainstream GOP groups — such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads or the party’s formal campaign committees — question their more conservative counterparts’ role, fed up by their outsized influence in shaping the party’s current agenda.

For decades, interest groups like the National Rifle Association have shaped debates on single issues. But Republicans suggest that not since the Christian Coalition of the 1990s have outside forces played such a sweeping, integral role in guiding Republican priorities as the tea party-led fiscal conservatives have in the ongoing budget debate.

“You have a small group in Congress that has become the surrender caucus,” argues Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. “They’ve surrendered their voting card to the wishes of these outside groups.”

Such divisions on display between the Republican Party’s pragmatic and ideological wings — and their affiliated outside groups — carry huge risk for the GOP heading into the 2014 midterm congressional elections. Republicans will seek to win power in the Senate and preserve their narrow House majority next fall.

But primaries that leave eventual nominees battered and broke for the general election could hamper that goal.

Nevertheless, tea party-aligned groups already are spending millions of dollars calling on compromise-minded Republican lawmakers from New Hampshire to Idaho to embrace more aggressive tactics against President Barack Obama’s agenda.

This is their message as Congress wrestles with health care implementation, considers immigration reform and gets ready for new rounds of debt talks: Republicans who work with the Democratic president do so at their peril.

It appears that no Republican is too large for these groups.

The Senate Conservatives Fund — founded by tea party hero and former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint — has launched television ads against Republican leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who helped craft the recent budget compromise that ended the shutdown. It also has criticized Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Jonny Isakson of Georgia.

The Club for Growth also is targeting Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, despite his role as leader of the campaign committee charged with preserving the Republican House majority. The group already has launched a website entitled, “Primary My Congressman,” and so far identified 10 potential campaigns to unseat Republican incumbents.

That group and others also are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a challenge against longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, of Mississippi, in hopes of persuading him to retire. And the Tea Party Patriots is going after Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Behind the scenes, GOP campaign officials are urging donors to fund mainstream groups to counter the conservative outfits. These officials are doing so even as they question the right-flank’s ultimate effectiveness, given that its groups, although vocal, typically have far less money compared with other organizations standing with Republicans from the establishment wing.

The most powerful Republican allies from the last election — mainstream Republican groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads and its sister organization Crossroads GPS – poured more than $212 million combined into the 2012 election. Combined, the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund spent $21 million.

National GOP officials are watching for signs of rifts among the right-leaning groups, which could dilute their power. The shutdown debate itself exposed at least one disagreement.

The Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America defiantly insisted that any deal to end the shutdown and raise the nation’s debt ceiling must dismantle or delay Obama’s health care law. Lawmakers who didn’t stand them with them risked inviting primary challenges.

But some tea party allies like Americans for Prosperity, the group funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, opposed the tactics that led to the shutdown. Now that group is trying to move on, investing $2 million in a four-state ad campaign that hammers Democrats over the troubled health care law implementation.

“We’re convinced that repealing Obamacare is long-term effort,” AFP president Tim Phillips says, explaining why it didn’t sign onto the right-flank’s demands to defund the law as part of a budget compromise.

In a sign of another possible crack in the conservative coalition, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America says that in the near future, it likely will focus its health care criticism on Democrats, who stood together during the shutdown debate.

“There needs to be some breaks in that unity,” says Heritage spokesman Dan Holler. “That may happen naturally, or it may need to be forced.”

But Chocola said the Club for Growth wouldn’t stop pressuring Republicans, particularly as congressional leaders begin to debate a new budget package.

Chocola wouldn’t rule out another push to link such legislation to the president’s health care law, but said his group might shift its strategy if major shifts to entitlement programs are included.

As the possibility of a shutdown loomed large in September, the network of GOP outside groups disagreed over strategy.

Crossroads officials briefed members of Congress on internal polling that showed the shutdown strategy deeply unpopular. Given that, the group and its fellow mainstream Republican allies largely stayed silent, fearing influential talk show radio hosts and aggressive conservative activists would brand them as heretics.

Meanwhile, conservative groups grew even more vocal in pressuring House and Senate Republicans to refuse to budge from tea party demands to defund “Obamacare” as part of any budget deal.

Eventually, House Speaker John Boehner broke with the right flank and endorsed the bipartisan plan to end the 16-day shutdown and raise the debt limit. And 87 Republicans in the House and 18 in the Senate supported it.

The damage to the GOP was severe: a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 63 percent of Americans now have a negative view of the Republican Party, the worst rating for the GOP in almost three decades.

Feds will not sue to stop marijuana use in Washington, Colorado

The U.S. government will not sue the states of Colorado or Washington to block state laws allowing the recreational use of marijuana.

The Associated Press reported on Aug. 29 that the Justice Department issued a national policy announcement that identified eight priorities for the enforcement of marijuana laws. Priorities include: preventing the distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing sales revenue from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels and preventing the diversion of marijuana outside of states where it is legal under state law.

In December, about a month after voters in Washington and Colorado backed marijuana measures, the president said it didn’t make sense for the federal government to go after marijuana users in states that had legalized the recreational use of small amounts of pot.

The Justice Department also will not intervene in the sales of medical marijuana in the states with laws allowing its use, as long as there’s no conflict with the eight enforcement priorities.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical marijuana.

Peace Corps to welcome same-sex couples for service

The Peace Corps will begin accepting applications from same-sex domestic partners who want to serve together as volunteers overseas.

Deputy director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said Same-sex couples may begin the application process starting on June 3.

“Service in the Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience for Americans who want to make a difference around the world,” Hessler-Radelet said in a news release. “I am proud that the agency is taking this important step forward to allow same-sex domestic partners to serve overseas together.”

Married heterosexual couples have been serving together in the Peace Corps since its inception in 1961. Currently, 7 percent of Peace Corps assignments are filled by married volunteers serving together.

Expanding service opportunities to same-sex domestic partners who want to volunteer together further diversifies the pool of Peace Corps applicants and the skills of those invited to serve overseas in the fields of education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development and agriculture, according to the announcement.

The Peace Corps requires formal documentation for all couples who want to serve, and same-sex domestic partners will be required to sign an affidavit before leaving for service that will act as verification of their relationship.

The PC said “couples who serve together gain a unique perspective of host country customs and culture, but opportunities for couples are limited, as both applicants must apply at the same time and qualify for assignments at the same post. Many factors affect placements, including an applicant’s overall competitiveness, program availability, departure dates, and safety and medical accommodations. For any applicant, the number one factor in determining an assignment is the demand from host countries for skilled volunteers.

On the Web…

http://www.peacecorps.gov/learn/howvol/couplesfaqs/.

Gay congressman introduces bill to de-federalize pot policy

Openly gay U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., this week introduced two bills to de-federalize marijuana policy and create a framework for taxing marijuana.

Polis’ Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would remove the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s authority over marijuana and allow states to choose whether to allow marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

Blumenauer’s Marijuana Tax Equity Act would create a federal excise tax on marijuana.

“This legislation doesn’t force any state to legalize marijuana, but Colorado and the 18 other jurisdictions that have chosen to allow marijuana for medical or recreational use deserve the certainty of knowing that federal agents won’t raid state-legal businesses,” said Polis. “Congress should simply allow states to regulate marijuana as they see fit and stop wasting federal tax dollars on the failed drug war.”

Blumenauer said, “We are in the process of a dramatic shift in the marijuana policy landscape. Public attitude, state law, and established practices are all creating irreconcilable difficulties for public officials at every level of government. We want the federal government to be a responsible partner with the rest of the universe of marijuana interests while we address what federal policy should be regarding drug taxation, classification, and legality.”

The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would:

• Remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.

• Transfer the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority to regulate marijuana to a newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms, which will be tasked with regulating marijuana as it currently does alcohol.

• Require marijuana producers to purchase a permit, as commercial alcohol producers do, of which the proceeds would offset the cost of federal oversight.

• Ensure federal law distinguishes between individuals who grow marijuana for personal use and those involved in commercial sale and distribution.

• Allow states to choose to continue to prohibit marijuana production or use in their states and it would remain illegal to transport marijuana to a state where it is prohibited.

The Marijuana Tax Equity Act would:

• Impose a 50 percent excise tax on the first sale of marijuana, from the producer to the next stage of production, usually the processor.

• Impose, similar to the rules within the alcohol and tobacco tax provisions, an occupational tax on those operating in marijuana, with producers, importers and manufacturers facing an occupation tax of $1,000/a year and any other person engaged in the business facing an annual tax of $500/a year.

• Create civil penalties for failure to comply with taxing duties.

• Require the IRS to produce a study of the industry after two years, and every five years after that, and to issue recommendations to Congress to continue improving the administration of the tax.

Wife of female Army officer can join spouses club

A woman who is married to a female Army officer at Fort Bragg and who was recently denied membership in its officers’ spouses club said she has been invited to become a full member.

Ashley Broadway told the Associated Press that she received the invitation from the club’s board in an email on Jan. 25.

The invitation came on the same day that Broadway also learned she’d been named Fort Bragg’s 2013 “Military Spouse of the Year” by Military Spouse magazine. She is married to Lt. Col. Heather Mack, who gave birth this week to the couple’s second child, a baby girl.

“I’m pleased, I’m happy,” Broadway said by phone. “As soon as things calm down with the baby, I want to get involved. I hate that it took so long for them to come to this conclusion. But I think things happen for a reason. I’m a very devout Christian. I’ve had faith in God this whole time. I think if anything it’s brought up a larger issue: We have two classes of service members and how they’re… not treated equally.”

“Looking back, it’s been a blessing in disguise because people are talking … in Washington, this is being talked about,” she added.

Last month, Fort Bragg received national attention when Broadway was denied membership in the officers’ spouses club at the North Carolina Army post because she does not have a spouse identification badge issued by the military.

Though she and Mack have been together for 15 years, the only pass post officials would provide to Broadway named her as a caregiver to their 2 1/2-year-old son – the same credential given to nannies.

The club announced it would allow Broadway admittance as a “guest member,” but Broadway said anything less than full membership wasn’t acceptable.

In an email Friday, a copy of which was provided by Broadway to AP, the board of the Association of Bragg Officers Spouses writes that “in order to immediately support all military Officer spouses who are eligible for ABOS membership a more inclusive definition of spouse is needed. Therefore, any Spouse of an active duty commissioned or warrant Officer with a valid marriage certificate from any state or district in the United States is eligible for ABOS membership.”

The email continues, “We would like to offer you to become a full member of ABOS. Our next event is in February, in which we are doing a Murder Mystery event dinner. We welcome both you and LTC Mack to join us.”

Broadway said she’s looking forward to becoming involved in club activities.

“I’m not one to hold grudges or anything,” she said. “I hope to get to know these ladies and we’ll go from there – do activities, so that we can better the lives of people here at Fort Bragg.”

The couple’s case is an example of how nearly a year and half after President Barack Obama and Congress ended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, same-sex couples are faced with daily reminders of the conflict inherent in serving openly under a government that still refuses to acknowledge their relationships.

Pentagon officials say they are bound by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than that between a man and a woman.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA in June, but advocacy groups say there are numerous steps the Pentagon could take now to treat struggling same-sex military couples more fairly.

Among the steps proposed by such advocacy groups as OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the American Military Partner Association are issuing military IDs to same-sex spouses, ensuring spouses have full access to on-base social programs, and letting same-sex couples qualify for military housing. Pentagon officials say the proposals are under study.