NNN – No New News? – 10/2/20 – ‘Commando’ at 35: Director Mark Lester reveals why an interracial love scene was cut from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action classic

Ethan Alter·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainmen tOctober 2, 2020·11 min read

Schwarzenegger takes aim in 'Commando' (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Courtesy: Everett Collection)
Schwarzenegger takes aim in Commando. (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Arnold Scwharzenegger was already an internationally-recognized celebrity by the mid-1980s, but Hollywood’s Schwarzenegger Era officially began 35 years ago on Oct. 4, 1985 with the release of Commando. Directed by Mark Lester, the lean, mean action movie awarded the Austrian bodybuilder his first starring role that didn’t involve him playing a sword-swinging barbarian or a killer robot from the future. Instead, Schwarzenegger played contemporary super-soldier, John Matrix, who embarks on a bloody mission to rescue his kidnapped daughter, Jenny (12-year-old Alyssa Milano), from the clutches of mercenaries led by an old ally-turned-adversary, Bennett (Vernon Wells).

Filled with one-liners and over-the-top action set-pieces, Commando set the tone for so many of the action favorites its star would make throughout the ’80s and ’90s, from Predator and The Running Man to True Lies and Eraser. “Arnold was already a larger-than-life character, and the producer, Joel Silver, kept saying, ‘Remember, more ER, ER,’” Lester tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I said, ‘What’s that?’ And he said, ‘Exaggerated reality!’ It was a great, great shoot and a great movie.”

But there was one instance where actual reality got in the way of the fun. In the script — which was initially penned by Teen Wolf collaborators Jeph Loeb and Matthew Weisman, and then heavily re-written by Steven E. de Souza — Matrix was supposed to take a time out from adding to his body count to enjoy a love scene with Cindy, the civilian flight attendant who inadvertently gets caught up in the commando’s mission. (Matrix is a widower in the film, although it’s never specified how his wife passed on. “I don’t know what happened to his wife,” Lester says, laughing. “That’s a good question. I don’t know what happened.”) Originally written for a white actress, the role eventually went to rising star Rae Dawn Chong. “We had forty white actresses — including Sharon Stone and all the usual suspects — read for the part, but she was the best one,” Lester remembers. “She was the most comedic, and did the best reading. We were way ahead of our time in that way.”

Rae Dawn Chong and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love scene in an early version of the action favorite 'Commando' (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)
Rae Dawn Chong and Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love scene in an early version of the action favorite Commando. (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Even as the producers and executives at 20th Century Fox signed off on Chong’s casting, they promptly pumped the brakes on the scene where John and Cindy would have gotten intimate while on a flight to rescue Matrix’s daughter. “They were afraid that Southern theaters and drive-ins wouldn’t play the film, because we had a Black woman and a white man,” the director says now, adding that both Schwarzenegger and Chong had no qualms about performing the scene. “There was no real nudity or anything; they were just going to be making out. This was only 35 years ago, so it shows you how times have changed.”

The studio also came up with a movie-specific excuse to abandon plans for an interracial love scene, arguing that at that moment in the story, Matrix had more important things on his mind than making out. “They said, ‘He’s on his way to save his daughter — why is he taking time to make love to this woman? It’s not going to make him look very good.’” Lester recalls, “They were probably right about that, but I think it was more about the interracial aspect at that time.” With that scene lost, the director ensured that the final moments of the movie hinted at a happily every after for the couple. “It’s intimated that they’re going to end up together,” Lester says of the closing scene, which shows a reunited John and Jenny getting on a plane with Cindy, all three of them grinning from ear-to-ear.

Schwarzenegger and Vernon Wells in 'Commando' (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection)
Schwarzenegger and Vernon Wells in Commando. (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection)

Interestingly, there is a love story that remains in the film. Early on in production, Lester gave Wells some insight into what motivates Bennett to make Matrix’s life hell. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to play it like you hate him, but also that you love him,’” the director says. “You’re so in awe of him that you’ve got to kill him.” The actor took that note and ran with it, embedding a layer of homoerotic tension into the film that audiences still pick up on today, although Lester swears he didn’t notice it during production. “Everybody has said that since, but I never picked up on it. I did direct him like that, though, so I guess it came through!”

Here are some other Commando secrets that Lester shared with us 35 years after the movie’s release, from the discarded original ending to the reason why there was never a sequel.

Lester learned the hard way that Schwarzenegger wasn’t Superman

Schwarzenegger was in peak physical shape during the production of 'Commando' (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Courtesy: Everett Collection)
Schwarzenegger was in peak physical shape during the production of Commando. (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp. Courtesy: Everett Collection)

Although Commando employed a full stunt team, the star was insistent that he do all his own stunts for one simple reason: no body double could match his particular body. “At the time, he was in peak form,” Lester says of the world’s most famous muscleman. “He never believed that a stunt person could have a body like his, and then his fans would know it wasn’t his body.” And Lester’s camera captured every bulging bicep in an effort to persuade the audience that Matrix — and Schwarzenegger — was a real-life superhero. It got to the point where the director believed that his star was capable of anything, be it lifting an entire phone booth with a man inside or dangling a guy over a cliff with one hand. “I think I was becoming delusional that he actually was that strong,” Lester says, laughing.

In both of the above cases, Schwarzenegger had to set him straight. For the phone booth scene, Lester remembers telling the actor: “‘Arnold, just lift up that phone booth. It weighs 200 pounds and you’re lifting 350-pound weights.’ And he said, “‘Are you crazy? I can’t lift that phone booth with a man in it!’” In the end, the production built a balsa wood booth that the star could more easily toss. As for the cliff scene, the poor guy on the receiving end of Matrix’s anger was held up by a harness and not just Schwarzenegger’s arm strength. “I thought he was the Terminator, and he kept having to say no,” Lester says.

But there were also moments where Schwarzenegger didn’t recognize his limits. “There’s this scene where Matrix is testing knives, and I wanted to use one of the bodybuilding doubles to do that because we were just seeing his hand,” Lester recalls. “But Arnold said, ‘No, you see part of my stomach! It has to be me!’ And that’s when he got hurt — the knife went right into his hand. We lost five hours while he went to the emergency room and have stitches. He never wanted to listen and do every possible thing, because his body was so awesome. You couldn’t get anyone else to look like that.”

There was some competition between Rambo and Commando

These days, Sylvester Stallone and Schwarzenegger are good buddies, on-screen and off. But back in the ’80s, both were eager to hold the crown of the world’s biggest action star, and Lester hints that he could sense the rivalry. Months before Commando arrived in theaters, Rambo: First Blood Part II became a massive hit and 20th Century Fox hired that film’s editing team of Glenn Farr, Mark Goldblatt and John F. Link to work on Lester’s movie. “They were brought on to compete with the Rambo films,” the director says, adding that he shot another Rambo-esque scene that was eventually cut from the theatrical version. “We had a whole scene that explained who Arnold’s character was, which was like the scene in First Blood where Richard Crenna gives a whole speech about Rambo.”

Over the years, some have said that Commando’s ultraviolent ending — where Matrix kills an entire army of mercenaries before turning his attention to Bennett — was also inspired by the kill-a-thon that ends the second Rambo movie, but Lester shoots down that rumor. At the same time, he does acknowledge that the final act underwent an on-the-fly rewrite after the studio expressed budgetary concerns about what was scripted. Originally, Matrix and Bennett were supposed to have a big boat chase before their climactic knife fight. “The studio saw this and realized the cost would be astronomical. So they said, ‘Listen, just go on the 20th Century Fox lot and find a place to shoot the ending.’ I wandered around the lot all day and ended up in the boiler room; I thought, ‘Wow, this is perfect!’ So that’s why they have their big fight in there at the end. And I actually think it’s much better, because it’s confined.”

Alyssa Milano was the first and only choice for Jenny

Schwarzenegger and Alyssa Milano in 'Commando' (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection)
Schwarzenegger and Alyssa Milano in Commando. (Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection)

While Lester auditioned dozens of actresses to play Cindy, the role of Jenny was set from the start. “The casting department at Fox said to me, ‘This is the best girl for the part,’” the director says of how he found Milano. At the time, the actress was already a household name thanks to the hit sitcom, Who’s the Boss?, and showed up to the Commando set with all her youthful exuberance and professionalism intact. “Arnold didn’t have any kids at the time, so he was quite happy to show his movie daughter around,” Lester remembers. “Alyssa was amazing: She took perfect direction, and brought the right emotions to every scene.”

Lester also didn’t get a say in which actor was going to play the movie’s other villain, Arius, an exiled South American dictator who hires Bennett as part of an elaborate scheme to stage a coup in his native country. The director wanted to give the role to Puerto Rican star, Raul Julia, who had just appeared in the acclaimed film, Kiss of the Spider Woman. But he was overruled by a studio casting director, who offered the role to Dan Hedaya. “He did a good job,” Lester says of the Brooklyn-born character actor whose later credits included The Addams Family and Dick. “But Raul would have been totally amazing.”

Many sequels were written, but none were shot

Schwarzenegger and Mark Lester on the set of 'Commando' (Photo: 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection)
Schwarzenegger and Mark Lester on the set of Commando. (Photo: 20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Commando grossed more than $50 million during its original theatrical run, and has enjoyed a long afterlife on home video and cable. (You can currently catch it on HBO Max.) But even though the ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel, 20th Century Fox never turned it into a franchise. “They had scripts written,” Lester says. “I read one once, but they never made it. So many people have stolen the story and plot; it’s been redone a hundred times in other countries. Russia’s made, like, three Commando movies!”

At one point, Lester says that he even tried to buy the rights to remake the movie from the studio, but was thwarted by talking up its popularity a little too much. “I was on a plane once, sitting next to the executive in charge of production at Fox,” he remembers. “I said, ‘When we land, I’m going to write you a check for $2 million for the remake rights.’ He said, ‘Why would you want that film?’ And I said, ‘I made the movie, and it’s famous all over the world!’ The next day he announced it as a remake!”

Of course, that remake never came to pass, but now that 20th Century Fox is owned by the franchise wizards at Disney, there’s a chance that John Matrix could rise again. “Arnold’s been doing Terminator movies as an old Terminator,” he notes. “So he could come back to mentor somebody.” And since Commando was inspired, in part, by James Bond, in Lester’s ideal world, that “somebody” would be soon-to-be ex 007, Daniel Craig. “I was a big fan of the James Bond films growing up, so I had Arnold read those one-liners like Bond, and he did a marvelous job. He was already such a great entertainer from his years of the bodybuilding, and now he knew how to captivate the audience with his smiles and winks on the big screen.”

Commando is currently streaming on HBO Max.

NNN – No New News? – 9/24/20 -California moves to end sales of new gas-powered cars

By Adam Beam

SACRAMENTO, Calif. —

California will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks in 15 years, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday, establishing a timeline in the nation’s most populous state that could force U.S. automakers to shift their zero-emission efforts into overdrive.

The plan won’t stop people from owning gas-powered cars or selling them on the used car market. But in 2035 it would end the sale of all new such vehicles in the state of nearly 40 million people that accounts for more than one out of every 10 new cars sold in the U.S.

California would be the first state with such a mandate while at least 15 other countries have already made similar commitments, including Germany, France and Norway.

Newsom used the hood of a red, electric-powered Ford Mustang Mach-E to sign an executive order directing state regulators to develop new regulations to meet the deadline. He urged Californians to “pull away from the gas pumps” and encouraged other states to join California for the good of the environment and public health.

“If you want to reduce asthma, if you want to mitigate the rise of sea level, if you want to mitigate a loss of ice sheets around the globe, then this is a policy for other states to follow,” Newsom said.

While environmental groups cheered the announcement, the oil industry panned it and the automakers’ industry group sought a middle ground, saying it’s committed to increasing zero-emission vehicles but through cooperation among governments and businesses, not by mandates.

Meantime, White House spokesman Judd Deere said flatly: “President Trump won’t stand for it.” And Larry Kudlow, Trump’s economic adviser, labeled it a “very extreme” position that he doesn’t think other states will follow.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign didn’t comment directly on Newsom’s plan. But spokesman Matt Hill said Biden believes electric vehicles can create “good-paying union jobs, dominate a fast-growing market worldwide, and meet the demands of the climate crisis.”

Tailpipe exhaust from cars, pickups, tractor-trailer rigs and other transportation are the single largest source of air pollution, and California has by far the most cars on the road than any other state.

In 2017, the federal government said California emitted 266.5 million tons (241.8 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide from the burning of petroleum. That’s about the same as the total emissions from Egypt, which has 2.5 times the population.

Newsom says his order will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35%. But he stressed the benefits went beyond the environment, saying electric cars and trucks are “the next big global industry and California wants to dominate it.”

California is already home to 34 electric vehicle manufacturers – including Tesla, the world’s top-selling maker – and accounts for about half of all electric vehicle sales in the U.S.

Some auto industry analysts warned the timeline could be too fast for technology to catch up to customer’s expectations. Battery life and manufacturing costs are still issues that haven’t been resolved, said IHS Markit principal analyst Stephanie Brinley, who studies the North and South American auto markets.

On Tuesday, Tesla announced plans for cheaper batteries with higher energy density, but they are well into the future, she said.

“Even if you get a battery like Tesla is talking about, it’s going to take time and money to get there,” Brinley said.

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at the Edmunds.com auto pricing site, said Newsom’s announcement “does seem like this is a significant shot fired against” the internal combustion engine that is likely to trigger high-level meetings at all the auto companies, which were moving toward electric vehicles but didn’t expect a zero-emissions mandate in 15 years.

Ford Motor Company said it agreed with Newsom that it’s time to take action to address climate change. But the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents Ford and most other automakers, said markets can’t be built with mandates and bans.

The oil and gas industry, meanwhile, criticized Newsom for holding a news conference on Wednesday in front of nearly $200,000 worth of electric cars “as he told Californians that their reliable and affordable cars and trucks would soon be unwelcome in our state.”

“Big and bold ideas are only better if they are affordable for us all,” said Cathy Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association. “Our industry and the energy we provide will be the part of any solution.”

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources board tasked with writing regulations for the plan, said electric vehicles will be more affordable in 15 years and everyone will benefit from cleaner air.

California already has some of the most progressive climate laws in the country, putting it at odds with the Trump administration and it’s more relaxed regulatory approach to environmental policy. The federal government has tried to end California’s authority to set emission standards for cars and trucks, a move the state is fighting in court.

About a dozen states follow California’s lead on auto emissions standards that are more restrictive than federal rules. If those states follow suit on zero-emission vehicles, it could have a huge impact on the U.S. automobile industry.

Governors from many of those states appeared with Newsom at an event on Wednesday sponsored by the U.S. Climate Alliance. They praised California’s move, but they gave no immediate indication they would join it.

“We’re going to be with you, the auto industry is going to be with you, as we move to zero emissions vehicles,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said.

Newsom’s order on Wednesday also targeted medium and heavy duty commercial trucks, saying he wants those to be 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2045 “where feasible.”

On the oil production side, Newsom called on the state Legislature to end new fracking licenses by 2024. Fracking is a technique that allows energy companies to extract huge volumes of oil and gas from shale rock deep underground. It involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into rock. Fracking opponents says the chemicals involved threaten water supplies and public health.

“Newsom can’t claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “He has the power to protect Californians from oil industry pollution, and he needs to use it, not pass the buck.”

NNN – No New News? – 8/16/21 -Shenmue Anime Announced for Crunchyroll and Adult Swim

Matt KimBy Matt KimUpdated: 16 Aug 2021 7:07 pmPosted: 4 Sep 2020 7:16 pmDuring the digital Crunchyroll Expo, the anime streaming company announced it is teaming up with Adult swim to produce an anime adaptation of Shenmue.Shenmue will be a 13 episode series is based on the video game franchise where protagonist Ryo Hazuki sets out to get revenge for his father’s murder. The beloved Sega video game series became a cult classic for its slice-of-life storytelling and fleshed out world.

Crunchyroll and Adult Swim are also working with the game’s creator Yu Suzuki, who will serve as executive producer.

“The world of Shenmue is Fascinating and unique and we are so excited to partner with Yu Suzuki to bring his epic creation to anime – and make kick-ass martial art epic!,” said Adult Swim vice president Jason DeMarco in a statement.

Sakurai Chikara (season two of One Punch Man) will direct the Shenmue series animated by Telecom Animation Film. The series will stream on Crunchyroll and air on Adult Swim.

The plot for the anime appears to mirror the story of the Shenmue video game series. Spanning three games Shenmue 3 was officially released in 2019, almost 20 years after the second game. Read IGN’s Shenmue 3 review here.

NNN – No New News? – 9/4/20 – Your internet bill might be too high — here’s how to save money

Daniel Howley·Technology EditorSeptember 4, 2020·5 min read

Whether you’re working from home, taking online classes, or streaming movies, everyone needs access to the internet. Heck, the U.N. considers it a human right.

But getting fast internet access can be expensive, especially when you’ve got a lot of people using the same connection. That’s because the more people using your connection, the slower it’ll be for each person.

That doesn’t mean you have to pay through the nose to get your Netflix (NFLX) fix, though.

In fact, there are a number of ways you can cut down on your monthly internet bill. For one thing, you should make sure you’re not overpaying for higher speeds than you need — and you should also check to make sure you’re actually getting the speeds you’re paying for. You may also want to buy your own modem and router so you’re not paying unnecessary monthly fees.

Get the right internet plan

If you’re a single person or couple, chances are you don’t need an incredibly fast internet connection. If you’re simply watching Disney+, checking email, and scrolling through social media, you can likely get by with a subscription for 100 megabits per second.

Your internet bill is probably expensive. Here's how you can save. (Image: Dan Howley)
Your internet bill is probably expensive. Here’s how you can save. (Image: Dan Howley)

That will let you do everything you want without any slowdown.

Got a fuller household with people streaming, playing online games, and video chatting? You’ll likely need a faster connection in the area of 200 Mbps.

In my area, Queens, New York, Charter Spectrum (CHTR) offers 400 Mbps for $44.99 per month for 24 months or 940 Mbps for $104.99 per month. Unless you’re a glutton, there’s no reason for your average family to go for the 940 Mbps option. That kind of speed is best for small businesses, especially when you take the price difference into account.

Over on Xfinity (CMCSA), you can get a 100-Mbps plan for $39.99 per month, a 200-Mbps plan for $54.99, a 300-Mbps plan for $59.99, or a 1-gigabit-per-second plan for $79.99.

Again, most speeds above 200 Mbps are unnecessary for the majority of people. I lived with three other roommates using a 150-Mbps plan and we were all able to stream shows, play online multiplayer games, and stream music without issue.

I suggest 200 Mbps specifically because it gives you a bit more overhead, especially now, when you might have multiple people in your house working from home or taking classes online.

Buying your own modem and router

This is probably the best, and easiest, way to save money on your internet bill. While it’s convenient to use the modem and router provided by your internet service provider, doing so often comes with monthly fees as high as $14.99.

Internet providers will often tout the benefits of their modems and routers, and some do in fact give you access to certain features you won’t get if you use your own units such as built-in parental controls. But that doesn’t mean you can’t buy your own setup with similar features.

The most important thing to do before going out to purchase a modem and router is to make sure you’re actually paying for one. Spectrum, for example, doesn’t charge for a modem, but Xfinity does.

Home internet connection. A wlan router on desk with notbook in background.
You’re better off buying your own modem and router than paying to rent one from your internet provider. Image: Getty

Once you know whether you’re paying, it’s time to find out what router you need. You can find that information on your service provider’s website, though it’s often buried. You can, for instance, find Xfinity’s site here, and CentryLink’s (CTLsite here. The folks at Tom’s Guide and WireCutter have also done a solid job of ranking some of the best cable modems out there. Check those out and make sure they’re compatible with your service.

In addition to a modem, you may need to buy your own router. And while this might seem like an annoyance, third-party routers are often more powerful than the base modem/ router combo box you get from your internet service provider.

You’ll want to take into account how large your home is and what areas you want to cover with WiFi before making your purchase. But if you’ve got a large space or a good deal of dead spots, I recommend getting a mesh router setup like Google’s (GOOGGOOGLNest WiFi or Amazon’s (AMZNEero mesh router. There are plenty of other mesh options out there, though, so be sure to find the one that fits your price range.

At this point you might be looking at as much as $300 or more for your new setup. And while that’s certainly a hard pill to swallow all at once, it begins paying for itself in less than two years if you’re already paying $14.99 per month for a modem/router combo.

How to check your internet speed

Not sure how what kind of internet plan you currently have, or unsure if you’re actually getting what you pay for? Your best bet is to check your home connection.

To do that, I suggest using Ookla’s Speedtest. You can access it by downloading the Speedtest app through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, or visiting Speedtest.net.

If you’re using your smartphone to test your internet speed, you’ll want to make sure the app is measuring your Wi-Fi connection and not your cellular connection. To do that you can simply turn off your cellular data connection while performing the test, then flip it back on when you’re finished.

All together, these steps should save you plenty of cash on your monthly internet bill. And isn’t saving cash what we really want?

Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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NNN – No New News? – 9/4/20 – House will vote on federal marijuana legalization for the first time, bill’s future in Senate uncertain

USA TODAY

House will vote on federal marijuana legalization for the first time, bill’s future in Senate uncertain

Nicholas Wu, USA TODAYSeptember 4, 2020·7 min read

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House will vote on legalizing marijuana at the federal level for the first time in the chamber’s history later this month, a hurdle Democrats and advocates are celebrating as Congress grapples with a host of pressing issues before the November election.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would vote on the MORE Act during the week of Sept. 21. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., would remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances and expunge some marijuana-related criminal records, though it would still be up to states to pass their own regulations on the sale of marijuana.

“It’s about time,” Nadler told USA TODAY, calling it a “historic vote” marking the beginning of the end of the federal government’s “40-year, very misguided crusade” against marijuana.

Maritza Perez, director of the office of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a group advocating for the decriminalization of drugs, said her organization was “thrilled,” saying the bill would “begin to repair some of the harms caused by the war on drugs in communities of color and low-income communities.”

The House’s vote comes as views of marijuana have changed in Washington and increased numbers of Americans support the legalization of the drug, whether for recreational or medicinal purposes. And while this bill is likely to fail in the Republican-majority Senate, advocates still saw the vote as a step forward.

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“I don’t even know if two years ago, I would have said that an act like this would have passed,” said Adam Goers, the vice president of corporate affairs at Columbia Care, which operates marijuana dispensaries across the country.

According to a 2019 Gallup survey, 66% of Americans supported legalization, though support did differ by party. More than three-quarters of Democrats said they supported legalization, as opposed to about half of Republicans.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., told USA TODAY, “the country has moved” its views on marijuana.

With Congress’ action, “there’s a recognition of where the states are, and we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle when it comes to cannabis,” he said, referring to the states who have already legalized marijuana in some form. “And we just need to move forward with these pieces of legislation and get the federal and state laws to align with each other.”

Marijuana is currently regulated by a patchwork of laws at the state and federal levels, and Goers said legalization at the federal level would add “normalization” for businesses and states by legalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana, and 33 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have legalized medical marijuana, but marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.

Both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump declined to enforce federal prohibitions on marijuana against states that legalized it for recreational or medicinal use. As president, Obama supported the decriminalization of marijuana, though not its full legalization.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has called for the decriminalization of marijuana and the expunging of convictions for marijuana use, though he expressed skepticism about the legalization of the drug during the Democratic presidential primary. Biden’s website says he supports the legalization of medical marijuana and would leave decisions on recreational use up to the states.

The continued difference in laws at the federal and state level, is complicated for dispensaries and other marijuana-related businesses.

Many banks are less willing to work with dispensaries and other marijuana companies because of the federal ban, according to a report from the nonpartisan National Conference on State Legislatures. The inaccessibility of banks means many marijuana-based businesses are cash-only and are more vulnerable to theft.

A blanket federal legalization of marijuana would help add clarity and allow more marijuana-based businesses to access capital and banking, Goers said.

Nadler said he was sure the bill would pass the House, telling USA TODAY the bill had “probably unanimous” Democratic support and “considerable Republican support” but was unsure of its fate in the Senate.

The bill has one Republican cosponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, and 86 Democratic cosponsors.

Speaking on his “Hot Takes with Matt Gaetz” podcast, Gaetz called the bill’s removal of marijuana from the federal controlled substance list “absolutely a step in the right direction.”

Gaetz criticized a provision in the bill that creates a 5% sales tax on the sale of marijuana to fund community programs benefiting people previously convicted of marijuana-related offenses. The Florida Republican dismissed it as a form of “reparations” but said he would still vote for the bill when it came to the House floor.

Nadler said the provision was about “making people whole from harms suffered directly as a result of the marijuana ban,” which he noted had disproportionately affected racial minorities.

An ACLU report analyzing marijuana-related arrests from 2010 to 2018 found that Black people were 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the Democratic vice presidential nominee, introduced the Senate’s version of the bill, though it has not made any progress beyond the Senate Committee on Finance and has no Republican cosponsors.

Republican Finance Committee spokesperson Michael Zona told USA TODAY there was “no plan” to move forward on the Senate bill.

Despite the bill’s odds in the Senate, advocates were still pleased. The Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce called the planned vote the “greatest federal cannabis reform accomplishment in over 80 years.”

The vote on legalizing marijuana finds itself in the middle of a crowded legislative calendar and a bitterly divided Congress with only three weeks of session to pass crucial legislation before the Nov. 3 election. Congressional leaders and Trump’s White House appear no closer to a deal on more coronavirus relief than they were a month ago as millions struggle financially from the pandemic. Plus, the entire federal government shuts down if the two sides don’t pass a funding plan by the end of the month.

One House Republican expressed skepticism about the timing of the bill amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the midst of an increase in opioid addiction deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, it seems strange that the focus of House majority leadership would be to fully legalize marijuana, a known gateway drug to opioid addiction,” Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., said in a statement. Harris criticized the bill for legalizing recreational marijuana and using “hard-earned taxpayer dollars to help subsidize the marijuana industry.”

A provision originally authored by Perlmutter allowing marijuana businesses to access banks was included in House Democrats’ $3.4 trillion COVID-19 relief package, but its inclusion was derided by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as part of “strange new special-interest carveouts for the marijuana industry” and is unlikely to be included in any final COVID-19 relief package.

Ads and the election: Facebook won’t allow new political ads the week before the November presidential election

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Marijuana: House to vote on federal legalization for the first time

NNN – No New News? – 8/16/20 – Islamic State has gained its first outpost in southern Africa after the capture of strategic port in Mozambique

jkossoff@businessinsider.com (Julian Kossoff)August 16, 2020·2 min read

Isis
A member of the Iraqi forces walks past a mural bearing the logo of the Islamic State (IS) group in a tunnel that was reportedly used as a training centre by the jihadists, on March 1, 2017, in the village of Albu Sayf, on the southern outskirts of Mosul.AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images
  • Militants affiliated to Islamic State (IS) have captured a key port in northern Mozambique.
  • For the first time, IS has a foothold in southern Africa.
  • After several days of fighting, government troops abandoned the port of Mocimboa da Praia. However, the latest reports indicate attempts to recapture it.
  • The port delivers cargo to vast new gas fields that are being developed offshore by multinationals, including Total.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

 Mozambique has become the latest African stronghold of Islamic State (IS) after well-armed insurgents captured a strategic port in the north of the country.

Fighters affiliated to IS overran the port of Mocimboa da Praia after several days of fighting earlier this week. The city is now under Sharia law, according to The Times.

The latest reports say government troops are still battling to regain control of the city and hundreds of reinforcements have been rushed to the battle, the Guardian reported, on Sunday. Mercenaries from Russia and South Africa have also been in combat for the government, said the report.

The Mozambican defense minister, Jaime Neto, said that the extremists had infiltrated parts of the port and “attacked the town from the inside out, causing destruction, looting, and the murder of defenseless citizens”, according to a report from the local Zitamar news agency.

A conflict has been bubbling in the region for three years with local jihadists who align themselves with the Islamic State franchise –  called the Islamic State Central Africa Province – growing in confidence and military strength. Since 2017, monitoring groups say more than 1,500 people have been killed and at least 250,000 displaced from their homes in the area, reports Al Jazeera.

Cabo Delgado is a Muslim majority province and the Islamic militants have been able to exploit local grievances and economic hardship to rally fighters around the IS flag. Almost 20% of Mozambique’s 32 million population are Muslims.

The loss of the city is a severe blow to impoverished Mozambique. It is in the gas-rich northern province of Cabo Delgado where energy giants, such as the French-owned Total, are planning to develop offshore gas projects worth up to $60 billion, according to Al Jazeera.

A deal struck in July, which meant Mozambique would receive $14.9 billion in debt financing from Total, was one of the largest single investment projects on the continent, according to Foreign Policy.

Experts now fear Mozambique will become a regional center for Islamic extremism. It borders six other African nations, including South Africa.

Read the original article on Business Insider

NNN – No New News? – Florida sheriff funds $35,000-a-month luxury office with ‘the money we take from the bad guys’

Hannah Morse and Alexandra Clough, Palm Beach PostAugust 14, 2020·7 min read

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has leased an entire floor of a luxury office tower for himself and his top staff, paying a rate double that of less prestigious office space.

His four-year lease at DiVosta Towers — two new Palm Beach Gardens’ office buildings topped by distinct pyramid structures — costs $35,000 a month. With a one year option to extend, the ultimate bill would top $2 million.

The lease works out to $41 per square foot. Less opulent space could be rented for $15 to $20 per square foot, several real estate brokers told The Palm Beach Post.

The sheriff entered into the DiVosta Towers lease in December to prep for a $42 million renovation of his existing headquarters. The work, which includes gutting 75% of the 40-year-old structure, will force more than 300 employees to work elsewhere for several years.

So Bradshaw and 15 of his top executives will be working on their own 10,000-square-foot floor at DiVosta Towers, he told 1290 WJNO radio in July. The building is home to professional service businesses such as law offices and financial firms.

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Teri Barbera later said the offices might eventually house more employees.

Longtime Palm Beach Gardens commercial broker John C. Bills said the price Bradshaw paid was average — “if they needed that high-end space and they needed the prestige.”

“If you need a fancy office in a high-rise office building, there are only a couple,” Bills said.

Aug. 11: Lawsuit filed after video showed officers trying to handcuff 8-year-old at Florida school

Elsewhere in Florida: Florida sheriff forbids employees, visitors to wear masks: If they do, ‘they will be asked to leave’

Gary Brodis of Atlantic Retail Group agreed that the price seemed average. Specific qualifications, like a security guard or front receptionist, might limit the options, he added.

Absent the Class A requirement, a 10,000-square-foot space is “not hard to find,” Bills said.

Hannah Morse and Alexandra Clough, Palm Beach PostAugust 14, 2020·7 min readIn this article:

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has leased an entire floor of a luxury office tower for himself and his top staff, paying a rate double that of less prestigious office space.

His four-year lease at DiVosta Towers — two new Palm Beach Gardens’ office buildings topped by distinct pyramid structures — costs $35,000 a month. With a one year option to extend, the ultimate bill would top $2 million.

The lease works out to $41 per square foot. Less opulent space could be rented for $15 to $20 per square foot, several real estate brokers told The Palm Beach Post.

The sheriff entered into the DiVosta Towers lease in December to prep for a $42 million renovation of his existing headquarters. The work, which includes gutting 75% of the 40-year-old structure, will force more than 300 employees to work elsewhere for several years.

So Bradshaw and 15 of his top executives will be working on their own 10,000-square-foot floor at DiVosta Towers, he told 1290 WJNO radio in July. The building is home to professional service businesses such as law offices and financial firms.

Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Teri Barbera later said the offices might eventually house more employees.

Longtime Palm Beach Gardens commercial broker John C. Bills said the price Bradshaw paid was average — “if they needed that high-end space and they needed the prestige.”

“If you need a fancy office in a high-rise office building, there are only a couple,” Bills said.

Aug. 11: Lawsuit filed after video showed officers trying to handcuff 8-year-old at Florida school

Elsewhere in Florida: Florida sheriff forbids employees, visitors to wear masks: If they do, ‘they will be asked to leave’

Gary Brodis of Atlantic Retail Group agreed that the price seemed average. Specific qualifications, like a security guard or front receptionist, might limit the options, he added.

Absent the Class A requirement, a 10,000-square-foot space is “not hard to find,” Bills said.

Video: Salt Lake City police release disturbing video of K-9 biting a Black man

 0:28 0:48 Scroll back up to restore default view.

Michael Singer, managing partner of the Comiter, Singer, Baseman & Braun law firm and an early tenant of DiVosta Towers, said he and other tenants at first were taken aback by the sheriff’s presence.

“All the tenants were surprised when he came in because it didn’t seem like a natural fit,” Singer said. “This is a professional office building.”

Now that the sheriff is there, however, Singer said he feels “safe” having sheriffs’ officials in the tower.

Singer said he has seen parts of the office, which he described as “nice.” But the sheriff’s personal office is nicer, he said.

“It’s very impressive. Presidential,” Singer said. “It looks like the perfect desk to have a press conference. If you’re going to be on camera, it’s a good place. It makes you look prestigious.”

In the radio interview, Bradshaw lamented the difficulty of finding “decent office space, not dilapidated,” and said he was concerned about security.

He told The Post he selected the building because it “meets the requirements for security and safety as well as provides an open space for employees to come to work in-person and work together.”

The money for the lease comes from drug-asset forfeiture accounts, not property taxes, Bradshaw said. There’s a special fund that houses “the money we take from the bad guys,” Bradshaw said in the radio interview.

Responding to The Post, part of the USA TODAY Network, Bradshaw said the space leased is “not coming out of general ad valorem funds set aside for safety services but being paid for with approved forfeiture funds.”

Under state law, the money from expensive cars and homes seized during drug arrests and other actions in state court cannot be used for sheriff’s office operating expenses.

But there’s nothing that stops a sheriff from spending forfeiture funds from federal court, which specifically allows paying for rent. The sheriff’s office received about $475,000 this year and the previous year in federal forfeiture money.

The lease payments did not interrupt any other office priorities, Barbera said.

Watch: Parts of Chicago looted after police confrontation

Qualified immunity: Why police are protected from civil lawsuits, trials

One broker who helped the sheriff look for space last year said the DiVosta Towers complex was a good choice. Jason Sundook, a principal at NAI/Merin Hunter Codman brokerage, said he was among several brokers around town who tried to help the sheriff find space that had good security and plenty of private space.

Sundook echoed others’ remarks that the sheriff also wanted a private bathroom with a shower. “They wanted nice space,” Sundook said. “It makes sense for someone in that role.”

DiVosta Towers “is a very attractive building,” Sundook said. “As a county, we can feel proud when people are coming to visit him.”

The deal was brokered for the sheriff’s office by Illustrated Properties, which lists the sheriff’s wife, Dorothy Bradshaw, as a sales associate on its website.

In his response to The Post, the sheriff said through Barbera that the “real estate broker initially chosen was not able to facilitate a location that met our safety concerns” but his wife was not involved and did not receive any fees or commissions on the deal.

The sheriff, who is seeking his fifth four-year term, declined The Post’s request for a tour and interview at the office tower. The presence of his office is not noted on the building directory.

Renovating the current HQ

In 2016, voters passed a sales tax hike of one penny on the dollar, which provided money to renovate the sheriff’s aging headquarters on Gun Club Road.

“It’s sick. It’s got mold in it and things like that,” Bradshaw said in the July radio interview.

Audrey Wolf, the county’s facilities director, said the $42 million project will tear up most of the building and add a new roof, new exterior walls, and impact resistant doors and windows.

Construction is expected to start in January and continue for up to three years, Wolf said.

While planning preceded the coronavirus pandemic, Bradshaw said in the radio interview that he was “trying to let a significant amount of people who can work from home, work from home.”

It was not clear how many that would be, and Wolf said “the relocation plan does not contemplate telecommuting.” But Bradshaw said all staff would have to leave headquarters by Oct. 1.

Most of Bradshaw’s 315 workers will move to one of two locations: across the street to surplus space at the South Florida Water Management District or into a space owned by the Oxbridge Academy Foundation at Community Drive and Military Trail just outside of West Palm Beach.

In searching for suitable space to relocate, the county also recommended an 8,000-square-foot commercial space in Palm Springs. It was not clear in county records why the Palm Springs location was not chosen for the sheriff’s executive team.

The county is paying $21 per square foot to move up to 120 employees into nearly 20,000 square feet at the Water Management District. The cost, which includes utilities and furniture, was deemed “significantly below the market rate” by county staff.

Another 125 workers would go to 31,500 square feet at Oxbridge. The cost is $16 per square foot, or $504,000 per year but the air conditioning unit and roof needed to be replaced — at the cost of the county, in exchange in part for credits on the rent.

The rent at Divosta Towers is $32 a square foot plus another roughly $10 for common area maintenance including taxes and insurance, bringing the total gross rent to about $41 a square foot, the lease says.

The sheriff’s office will pay $1.7 million over four years and another $400,000 if the lease is extended into 2024.

Follow Hannah Morse and Alexandra Clough on Twitter: @mannahhorse and @acloughpbp

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw rents luxury office space

NNN – No New News? – 8/6/20 – Louisiana Supreme Court upholds Black man’s life sentence for stealing hedge clippers more than 20 years ago

By Kay Jones and Leah Asmelash, CNN

Updated 6:15 PM ET, Thu August 6, 2020Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Fair Wayne Bryant's life in prison sentence.Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Fair Wayne Bryant’s life in prison sentence.

(CNN)A Black Louisiana man will spend the rest of his life in prison for stealing hedge clippers, after the Louisiana Supreme Court denied his request to have his sentence overturned last week.Fair Wayne Bryant, 62, was convicted in 1997 on one count of attempted simple burglary. In his appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Louisiana in 2018, his attorney, Peggy Sullivan, wrote that Bryant “contends that his life sentence is unconstitutionally harsh and excessive.”Last week, though, the state Supreme Court disagreed — with five justices choosing to uphold the life sentence.

The lone dissenter in the decision was Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, who wrote that “the sentence imposed is excessive and disproportionate to the offense the defendant committed.”

Johnson is the only female and Black person on the court. The rest of the justices are White men.

The sentence is sanctioned under the habitual offender law, Johnson noted in her dissent, meaning that Bryant’s previous criminal history supports the sentence.Bryant was convicted in 1979 for attempted armed robbery, in 1987 for possession of stolen things, attempted forgery of a check worth $150 in 1989 and for simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in 1992, all before his 1997 arrest for the failed attempt at stealing the hedge clippers.But Johnson also mentioned the cost associated with Bryant’s sentence, writing that in his 23 years in prison, he has cost Louisiana taxpayers over $500,000.”If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers,” she wrote.Bryant’s sentence is a “modern manifestation” of “pig laws,” which were created in the years after Reconstruction, Johnson also said. The laws “criminalized recently emancipated African American citizens by introducing extreme sentences for petty theft associated with poverty,” she wrote.”This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of 3 hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose,” Johnson wrote.

While Johnson said she would grant the appeal, five justices denied it and one abstained.Sullivan, Bryant’s appellate attorney, told CNN she agrees with Johnson’s dissent.

NNN – No New News? – 7/29/20 – Report: Coaches at NBA’s basketball academies in China say they witnessed rampant player abuse

Yahoo Sports
WUQING, TIANJIN, CHINA - 2018/05/07: NBA China opened its first lifestyle center on April 25 in Tianjin.  The center covers 12,000 square meters and offers regulation-sized basketball courts, a basketball theme kid's center and an NBA retail store. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The NBA’s facilities in China reportedly featured awful conditions. (Photo by Zhang Peng/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A fateful tweet about a free Hong Kong reportedly wasn’t the beginning of the NBA’s trouble with China in recent years.

Before Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sparked a firestorm in the NBA’s most lucrative international market, the league had encountered rampant problems at its three basketball academies in China, according to a blistering report from ESPN’s Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada.

Among the biggest reported issues were a culture of physical abuse by Chinese coaches, players not receiving proper education, brutal living conditions for players, police harassment of American coaches and one camp being located in the province of Xinjiang, where a million Uighur Muslims are being held in concentration camps as the Chinese government attempts to erase their culture. All of this was reportedly compounded by a lack of NBA oversight in an authoritarian country.

The NBA recently admitted it had closed its camp in Xinjiang after being pressed by a U.S. Senator, but declined to reveal why and did not indicate if it had also done so with its camps in Zhejiang and Shandong.

What went wrong with the NBA’s China academies

Opened with much fanfare in 2016, the NBA’s three Chinese academies were hailed by NBA commissioner Adam Silver as a place for elite Chinese basketball talent to be developed by NBA-trained coaches on and off the court.

The potential benefits of such an enterprise were obvious: A closer relationship with a country worth billions to the league and the development of even more Chinese NBA players. As the ESPN report notes, the NBA’s Chinese revenues exploded thanks to the career of Yao Ming, and league employees reportedly admitted the intention of the academies was to find the next Yao Ming.

What the NBA’s coaches saw along the way was reportedly shocking:

One requested and received a transfer after watching Chinese coaches strike teenage players, three sources told ESPN. Another American coach left before the end of his contract because he found the lack of education in the academies unconscionable: “I couldn’t continue to show up every day, looking at these kids and knowing they would end up being taxi drivers,” he said.

Despite China’s ban on corporal punishment in schools in 1986, the practice remains widespread and culturally embedded in the country, which became very clear to NBA staff at the academies.

One former coach reportedly accounted watching a Chinese coach hurl a ball into a young player’s face then kick him in the stomach:

“Imagine you have a kid who’s 13, 14 years old, and you’ve got a grown coach who is 40 years old hitting your kid,” the coach said. “We’re part of that. The NBA is part of that.”

Players were reportedly housed in cramped dorms, with one coach saying that a room meant for two people ended up housing 8-10 athletes. Players were reportedly trained 2-3 times a day with little time for anything else, especially education.

One American coach also reported being stopped by police three times in 10 months and detained for two hours because he didn’t have his passport. Foreign staff were also reportedly unable to rent housing in Xinjiang and had to live at local hotels.

NBA’s blind eye on Uighurs a black mark

When the league’s reaction to Morey’s tweet caused bipartisan political criticism, scrutiny began to build over the NBA’s Xinjiang academy. The Xinjiang province, an area in Western China nearly the size of Alaska, has reportedly been the site of rampant human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.

There is so much to know about the plight of the Uighurs, but the basics are this: The Uighurs are an ethnic minority in Xinjiang that have seen an estimated 1 million of their people systematically imprisoned in reeducation camps, all under the guise of fighting terrorism. Inmates recall experiences of brainwashing and torture. Many more Uighurs are pushed into working as cheap labor in factories.

As The Guardian accounts, it is the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II. So, it’s not hard to see why some would have problems with the NBA setting up camp in the capital city of that same region.

NBA chief operating officer Mark Tatum, who is in charge of the league’s international operations, told ESPN the league also wasn’t aware of the human rights issues in Xinjiang when it announced its academies. The league ended up shuttering the academy, doing so quietly because it likely didn’t want to anger the Chinese government.

Per ESPN, Tatum repeatedly avoided questions on whether or not Xinjiang’s human rights abuses led to the academy’s closing:

“My job, our job is not to take a position on every single human rights violation, and I’m not an expert in every human rights situation or violation,” Tatum said. “I’ll tell you what the NBA stands for: The values of the NBA are about respect, are about inclusion, are about diversity. That is what we stand for.”

What did the NBA know about its Chinese academies?

One issue that comes up repeatedly in ESPN’s report is how much the NBA did or didn’t know about what was going on in the camps that held the league’s name.

Tatum indicated he didn’t know about complaints to the league, and coaches reportedly believed that lack of knowledge allowed the camps to continue:

Two of the former NBA employees separately told ESPN that coaches at the academies regularly speculated about whether Silver had been informed about the problems. “I said, ‘If [Silver] shows up, we’re all fired immediately,'” one of the coaches said.

Tatum said the NBA received “a handful” of complaints that Chinese coaches had mistreated young players and immediately informed local authorities that the league had “zero tolerance” for behavior that was “antithetical to our values.” Tatum said the incidents were not reported at the time to league officials in New York, including himself or Silver.

NBA employees reportedly told ESPN much of the problem was the league’s decision to place the academies in government-run facilities, which gave Chinese officials the power to select the players and determine the training:

“We were basically working for the Chinese government,” one former coach said.

NBA was already under fire over China

The NBA was already facing questions from two Republican Senators on its relationship with China. One letter led to the admission that the Xinjiang facility had been closed, while the other led to ESPN basketball reporter Adrian Wojnarowski’s suspension.

The revelation of the NBA allowing the Chinese government to basically run its academies as young players faced deplorable conditions, with one in an area that is experiencing a potential genocide, probably won’t help matters.

The NBA obviously has a lot on its plate as it reboot its season in Disney World while navigating a pandemic and unrest over racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd, but such a report on its Chinese camps is clearly antithetical for the political direction the league is trying to take:

“You can’t have it both ways,” the former employee said. “… You can’t be over here in February promoting Black History Month and be over in China, where they’re in reeducation camps and all the people that you’re partnering with are hitting kids.”

The NBA’s relationship with China — which, remember, was the end goal here — has also remained fractured as the government continues to keep NBA games off state television, costing the league hundreds of millions of dollars.

More from Yahoo Sports:

NNN – No New News? – 3/15/20 – Will There Be A Collapse of the Fiat System

All fiat currencies eventually go to zero value, and usually they do it in less than forty years. We now are in year forty-one.by Jay Zawatsky

On August 15, 1971, President Nixon decoupled the U.S. dollar from gold in connection with international payments. That action made the U.S. dollar a pure “fiat” currency, with no backing other than the promise of the Federal Reserve to replace one dollar with another dollar. Today, as the Fed continues to devalue the currency and serious investors turn to gold reserves, we are beginning to see the collapse of the fiat system.

Consider the real rate of inflation experienced by Americans during the forty-one years since the end of Bretton Woods. That real inflation rate—1,400 percent in the aggregate, according to ShadowStats—is substantially higher than the “official” rate calculated by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The nominal price of gold, having risen from just below $100 per troy ounce when gold ownership by Americans was relegalized during 1974 to over $1,500 per ounce currently, perfectly mirrors the loss of the U.S. dollar’s purchasing power.

With respect to certain commodities essential to modern life in America, especially gasoline, the nominal price of precious metals (gold and silver) has more than compensated for the loss of the dollar’s purchasing power. This point was illustrated remarkably well in an exchange on the morning of Wednesday, February 29 between Congressman Ron Paul and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke during the Fed Chairman’s testimony before Congress’s Committee on Financial Services.

During his questioning of Mr. Bernanke, Congressman Paul, a longtime Fed foe and author of End the Fed, extracted a U.S. one-ounce silver eagle from the left pocket of his suit coat. Brandishing that coin, Paul schooled the Fed chairman about how well that one ounce of silver had retained its real worth compared to Mr. Bernanke’s fiat Federal Reserve notes.

Congressman Paul informed Chairman Bernanke that in 2006, when Bernanke took over the reins at the Fed, an ounce of silver bought about four gallons of regular unleaded gasoline. Paul then described that the value of that same ounce of silver can purchase eleven gallons of gasoline today, notwithstanding that the nominal price of gasoline is the highest it ever has been on the last day of any February. “That’s preservation of value,” said Paul, waving the silver eagle. It also is emphatic proof of the loss of value of the U.S. dollar.

It is not only the dollar that is losing substantial purchasing power. Every major central bank on the planet is creating their equivalent of trillions of dollars of new fiat money. The European Central Bank, under the control of “Super Mario” Draghi, is digitally printing euros and engaging in dollar-swap agreements with the U.S. Federal Reserve to fund the bailouts of the failing European states, including but not limited to Greece. China’s central bank, the Peoples Bank of China (PBOC), is printing yuan (aka renmibi) to exchange for the dollars that have flooded into China as a result of the enormous, chronic trade imbalance between the United States and China. Japan’s central bank, the Bank of Japan (BOJ), is printing yen to deflate the value of the Japanese currency so that Japan can continue to export that country’s wares. Even the Swiss have pegged their formerly “hard” currency to the euro, so as the euro declines in aggregate purchasing power, the Swiss franc loses its value as well.

Economists refer to the actions taken by the world’s central banks as “competitive devaluation.” This policy, undertaken to reduce the burden of sovereign debt and to “keep exports cheap,” means that wealth preserved in bonds and bank accounts (essentially fiat-money equivalents), no matter in which currency, is declining. Stated more plainly, the value of the savings of billions of people is being stolen by the hidden tax of inflation resulting from the endless money printing of the central banks. It is for this very reason that small investors, big investors and, most significantly, the central banks themselves are purchasing and taking delivery of precious metals. For example, according to the FinancialTimes, China increased its gold holdings to 1,054 metric tonnes by acquiring at least 227 tons during the fourth quarter of 2011.

In April of 2011, when gold was selling in the mid-$1400 range, the University of Texas (UT) endowment fund took delivery of $1 billion worth of gold. Generally, institutions do not take delivery of commodities they intend to trade or resell in the short term. They take delivery only when they intend to hold that position for a long time. In the case of UT, its billion dollars of gold was acquired because of the metal’s merits as a wealth preserver over the long term. Kyle Bass, the hedge-fund manager who advised the UT endowment fund to take delivery of the bullion, suggested that UT’s investment was undertaken as a hedge against worldwide currency debasement, represented by the endless, and accelerating, printing of fiat money. Sure, the daily swings in the futures market for gold and silver make the trading of those commodities the exclusive province of experts. Do not attempt it at home. But gold and silver bullion coins (e.g., Canadian maple leafs and U.S. eagles—not the collectibles, sold with huge premiums over the spot price, that so many TV pitchmen are offering) are essential for wealth preservation. This is particularly true when the volume of world fiat money increases at an exponentially increasing rate, as it has since the beginning of the financial crisis, while interest rates on Treasury securities are engineered by the Fed to remain far below the real rate of inflation.

Source: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/01/living-in-a-qe-world/“What we are witnessing today is the end stages of a grand experiment,” Paul said as he addressed Chairman Bernanke. That forty-one year experiment in fiat money is failing. It is no different this time than it ever has been in history. All fiat currencies eventually go to zero value, and usually they do it in less than forty years. We now are in year forty-one. Is Bernanke smarter than history? The University of Texas does not think so.

Jay Zawatsky is the CEO of havePower, LLC (a natural gas infrastructure developer) and a professor of business in the dual degree MBA program of the University of Maryland University College.

From NationalInterest.org