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How an Unsolved Murder Got Legal Weed Lobbyist Eapen Thampy Indicted on Drug Charges

On the evening of Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, residents of a country-club neighborhood in Columbia, Missouri, went to bed unaware that one of their neighbors had nearly 1,000 pounds of high-grade Oregon marijuana parked in the driveway outside his home.

The home was being rented by 28-year-old Augustus Gus Roberts, the son of a circuit court judge. Under the cover of darkness, several suspects forced their way inside, murdered him, and made off with the weed-filled U-Haul.

The killers didnt go far, abandoning the U-Haul at the end of the neighborhoods cul-de-sac. Police arrived to find Roberts outside, near his driveway, dead of an apparent gunshot wound. They also found 94 pounds of weed and 3,000 THC oil pens used for vaping in the trailer and in Roberts bedroom closet.

In the year and a half since, nine people have been arrested as a result of the homicide investigationthough none of them has been charged with committing that crime. Instead, law enforcement officials have rounded up a collection of Roberts alleged co-conspirators on drug-related counts.

The highest-profile bust was Eapen Thampy, a well-known lobbyist around the state Capitol whose chief issue has been marijuana legalization and criminal justice reformand who is now accused of being part of a network that distributed more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana over three years. The chargeswhich stem from the Roberts investigation, according to a DEA agents affidavitcould put Thampy in prison for life.

Its not lost on supporters of marijuana policy reform that Roberts death was precisely the type of violence that they believe legalization would prevent. Once you have organized crime you have people taking matters into their own hands, says Steve Fox, president of VS Strategies and a longtime D.C.-based marijuana policy reform advocate. The same issues you had associated with alcohol prohibition in the early part of the last century, with organized crime and violencethose things largely, if not entirely, go away once the substance in question is legal and regulated.

In 2015, at the age of 31, Thampy founded Heartland Priorities, an organization that lobbies for marijuana legalization. He occupied a distinctive niche in the effort by arguing for reform from a right-wing and Libertarian perspective to a state legislature controlled by a Republican super-majority. He regularly appeared on talk radio throughout the state and beat the drum for individual liberty as a basis for legal weed and for criminal justice and sentencing reform. Hes been photographed with Sens. Rand Paul and Roy Blunt, as well as a former governor and current state attorney general.

It breaks my heart that this is happening to him, says Tom Mundell, a Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient who focuses on marijuana reform from a veterans and PTSD perspective. He was doing a lot to give people who had never had a break in their life the opportunity to have generational wealth through the hemp industry.

But authorities allege that Thampy had a side hustle to his political work. They claim in the indictment that between January 2015 and September 2018, he was part of a drug distribution network connected to Roberts.

According to a DEA agents affidavit, before Roberts death, he was receiving marijuana from Oregon via a middleman who had been a DEA informant in the past and who supplied Roberts with 280 to 350 pounds of marijuana every three to four weeks for about nine months up until his death.

After Roberts was killed, the middleman began cooperating with the feds again and arranged for an especially large shipment of marijuana to be sent from Oregon to Missouri, according to a DEA agents affidavit. Authorities intercepted some 1,800 pounds of high-grade weed from a commercial trailer in Wyoming and arrested Craig Smith of Oregon, Roberts alleged supplier.

Among other things, the indictment charges in a separate count that Smith and Thampy sought to sell a smaller amount of marijuana in February of last year.

Authorities have charged seven others, including a Columbia mother and son who allegedly used drug-dealing proceeds to purchase, among other things, a flamethrower. Court documents allege one of the defendants donated $1,000 in drug money to Better Way Missouri, a political action committee represented by Thampy.

Thampy, who is free pending trial next year, declined to comment for this article, and calls to his attorney were not returned.

Even before his arrest, Thampy was a controversial figure for some.

New Approach Missouri is the organization most responsible for getting medical marijuana legalized via a statewide vote last year, and multiple people affiliated with that organization say Thampy ran interference on them and sought to tank the amendment until right before the election, when polling clearly showed it would pass. They believe Thampy viewed the effort as a threat to his career lobbying the state legislature.

One of Thampys key issues was curbing civil asset forfeiture, a process in which law enforcement confiscates property it believes was used to facilitate criminal activities. I dont know anyone who knows the laws around asset forfeiture the way he does, Mundell says.

In an ironic twist, the government has now launched a forfeiture action in the case stemming from Roberts death. The feds are looking to seize an industrial building in White City, Oregon; a gated estate in Central Point; a parcel of land adjacent to an airstrip in Cave Junction; $100,000 of confiscated cash and a Columbia house worth roughly $250,000.

Dan Russo, the attorney representing Smith, told the Columbia Daily Tribune he believes the case is an example of law enforcement making a last-ditch attempt to empty the pockets for anyone involved with marijuana on any level before what many see as the drugs inevitable legalization at the national level.

Meanwhile, as Thampy, Smith and the others face an uncertain fate, one thing is for sure: For now, at least, someone has gotten away with the murder of Gus Roberts.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com

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FDA Throws Doubt On CBD’s Safety In Controversial New Warning

CBD is everywhere, from face creams and dog food to chocolate bars and CBD-infused pillowcases. But now, health authorities in the US now warning that many products being sold in this fledgling market could potentially be dangerous. 

On the other hand, some medical professionals and marijuana companies have pushed back against the announcement, accusing the health officials of being “inappropriately alarmist.”

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters to 15 companies for illegally selling products containing CBD. They have also warned that they can’t guarantee many unregulated CBD products are safe due to the lack of scientific information regarding its safety, suggesting there’s some evidence that CBD supplements can cause liver damage, diarrhea, and mood changes.

CBD is short for cannabidiol, the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound is not psychoactive and it doesn’t give users a fuzzy-headed high. It has been shown to hold some therapeutic benefits, especially for managing anxiety, chronic pain, nausea associated with chemotherapy, and some forms of epilepsy.

However, according to the FDA, some of the claims touted by the manufacturers are not scientifically proven and could be misleading consumers. 

“We remain concerned that some people wrongly think that the myriad of CBD products on the market, many of which are illegal, have been evaluated by the FDA and determined to be safe, or that trying CBD ‘can’t hurt,’ ” Amy Abernethy, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner, said in a statement.

“Aside from one prescription drug approved to treat two pediatric epilepsy disorders, these products have not been approved by the FDA and we want to be clear that a number of questions remain regarding CBD’s safety – including reports of products containing contaminants, such as pesticides and heavy metals – and there are real risks that need to be considered,“ she added.

“This overarching approach regarding CBD is the same as the FDA would take for any other substance that we regulate.” 

One concern brought up by the health authorities was that some CBD products were marketed for kids. This dramatically increases the risk of an adverse reaction as children have many differences in the ability to absorb, metabolize, and excrete a substance like CBD. The FDA has also flagged up similar concerns with CBD products manufactured as animal food.

Nevertheless, the FDA’s announcement has proved controversial. As per Forbes, a number of cannabis companies have criticized the decision; Medical Marijuana, Inc. said disputes the claim CBD has “toxic liver effects,” while CV Sciences said the FDA’s warning had “an inappropriate alarmist tone.”

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com

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‘The tribe has taken over’: the Native Americans running Las Vegas’ only cannabis lounge

Nevada law restricts marijuana consumption to private residences until 2021, but sovereignty exempts the Las Vegas Paiute

A couple seated at a high top table smoked a joint, while six tourists in a circular booth nearby drank THC-infused beer and reviewed the flower menu. It was the morning of the Southern Paiutes traditional hunt, when tribal youth learn to shoot and harvest mule deer as adult providers, but Benny Tso, 43, was stuck in the Las Vegas Paiutes new cannabis tasting room, taking meetings and making calls.

The Tudinu, or desert people, from whom the Las Vegas Paiute descend, have lived in southern Nevada for more than 1,000 years, spending summers in the mountains and winters by a valley spring until the area was taken over by white settlers. They worked as ranch hands for several decades, and in 1970, the Las Vegas Paiutes became recognized as a sovereign nation, after which they launched several businesses.

In 2017, they opened the NuWu Cannabis Marketplace, a glass-walled, big box structure that half resembles a car dealership.NuWu which means the people in Southern Paiute sits on the tribes colony one mile away from the neon-lit Fremont Street Experience.

Last month, NuWu became the go-to dispensary for many in Las Vegas, and not just because its the only one with a drive-thru window. NuWu opened Nevadas first cannabis tasting room in October. Sovereignty exempts them from a law that restricts marijuana consumption to private residences until 1 July 2021.

On that date, Sin City will no doubt host the kitschiest, most glammed-out cannabis party scene in the world. A dispensary with galactic scale, Planet 13, already has a restaurant and caf space inside its 112,000-sq-ft marijuana superstore near the Las Vegas Strip. But for the next 21 months, this 55-member Southern Paiute band has the pot lounge business all to itself.

We laughed at first about it. Like, oh crap, were going to be weed dealers? said Tso, who served as the tribal council chair for over 10 years. After we got the jokes aside, we started digging into the numbers. It was just a different way to generate revenue for the tribe when we realized we needed to do something to put our people in better situations.

Within a year and half this is going to compete with our other businesses, Tso said of NuWu Cannabis Marketplace. I think weve prolonged our tribe by three to four more generations.

Customers
Customers gather at the NUWU Tasting Room on Saturday 5 October 2019. Photograph: Jeff Scheid/The Guardian

He noted that federal assistance for healthcare, education and law enforcement services has dwindled since the recession. In fact, a 2018 report by the US Commission on Civil Rights titled Broken Promises called the funding status for Indian country grossly inadequate.

There are 560 some odd treaties between the US government and tribes, and none of them have been honored, Tso said. But with this business weve created, well balance out some of those shortfalls.

Located in a neighborhood with multiple cemeteries, tow yards and homeless shelters, the Southern Paiutes cannabis lounge is off the beaten path. But one afternoon last month, Jessica, a Las Vegas local, celebrated her 26th birthday by inhaling smoke from a dab rig that the bartender lit for her.

Dan, an accountant from Denver, ordered a bong hit. This would be a great place to bring my folks, he said. They love to come to Vegas and throw convention out the window.

Occasionally, NuWu has to cut people off. But overall the experiment has gone so well that two to three other Native American tribes visit each week to learn about the industry some are calling the new new buffalo, a reference to the term used for casinos when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988.

In a city saturated with gambling, where even laundromats and grocery stores have slot machines, the Las Vegas Paiutes never saw the casino business as a viable economic driver. Their main revenue source since 1970 has been a tobacco store that sells tax-free cigarettes.

The Paiute in an interesting way took advantage of this community that grew around them, said Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. When you go to Las Vegas, you dont take care of yourself, and casino culture, for locals who worked there, had a similar impact. Youre working all day with people smoking, drinking, and sometimes making considerable money. That became hard to resist, and the Paiutes did well financially knowing there were plenty of smokers in this area.

The strength and ingenuity theyve used to survive centuries of marginalization has parallels to the Las Vegas Paiutes creation story, which states that their ancestors roamed the desert as ants until a great flood forced them to crawl up a mountain and ascend trees. When the water receded, they returned to the ground and became two legs human beings and an especially communal, hardworking sort.

We do get teased because were city Indians, but a majority of us know our culture and thats the point, said Tso, whose arms are covered in tattoos of traditional Paiute symbols and tools. His community may need NuWu to be that mountain they climb in the event of a perfect storm, since the tobacco shop revenue plateaued years ago, right as healthcare costs rose to levels unmet by federal support.

Another challenge they face is a corporate invasion.

MedMen and other companies listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange now operate cannabis dispensaries near the Las Vegas strip. According to Dayvid Figler, an attorney who practices cannabis law in Nevada, The old school Vegas people, the local cultivators, the mom and pops, etc, who were the sole people in the industry are either all gone or have changed their roles.

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A view of the welcome sign on the Las Vegas Strip. Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/TASS

From a business standpoint its a very volatile terrain, he added. Youre getting reports of $30m, $45m, $100m for the transfers of marijuana licenses from establishments within Nevada to these corporate entities that have ownership outside the state.

The potential for crony capitalism in the Nevada cannabis industry was highlighted last month with the revelation that associates of Rudy Giuliani arrested in Donald Trumps Ukraine imbroglio unsuccessfully tried to enter the Las Vegas cannabis market through max donations to Republican candidates for governor and attorney general.

The Las Vegas resorts, too, have a stake in the future of the cannabis industry. Acting as the ultimate power broker, the resorts killed a cannabis lounge licensing bill in the 2017 legislature arguing that any marijuana use drifting on to their properties might lead federal regulators to revoke their gaming licenses. This year, the resorts convinced the governor to impose a three-year moratorium on cannabis lounges, and the Las Vegas city council banned such businesses from operating within 1,000ft of any casino.

In reality, [the resorts] didnt want the competition. Theyre hoping in two years marijuana will go legal federally, and then they can bring it inside the hotels, said the former state senator Tick Segerblom, who wrote the failed cannabis lounge bill.

Having co-authored the agreement that allowed the Las Vegas Paiutes into Nevadas cannabis industry, Segerblom (the rare politician with a pot strain named after him), took solace in their success. The marijuana industry is dominated by white people, but along comes this tribe and just takes over. Of all the things Ive done, this is the one Im most excited about.

They have outdoor grows taking place in northern Nevada on reservations where hundreds of people havent had jobs in forever, he added. Its a true minority group thats been screwed over since Christopher Columbus, and its just fitting justice. I sleep well at night.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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First Cannabis-Based Medicines Have Been Approved For Use By England’s NHS

Two cannabis-based medicines have been approved for use by England’s National Health Service (NHS) for the first time. The medicines will be available to treat children with severe forms of two conditions, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS).

It’s the first time drugs containing cannabis have been greenlit for routine use by NHS England by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the nation’s drug watchdog.

After reviewing cannabis-based medicines for multiple conditions, NICE has approved the use of Epidyolex to treat two types of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut (a form of childhood-onset epilepsy) and Dravet (infant epilepsy caused by fever) syndromes, both of which are considered treatment-resistant. The drug comes in the form of an oral solution of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component in cannabis, which clinical trials have shown can help reduce the frequency of seizures by almost 50 percent in some children.

It is estimated there are up to 9,000 sufferers of Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet in the UK. The drug costs between £5,000 and £10,000 ($6,400 and $12,800) a year per patient but, BBC News reports, GW Pharmaceuticals, the British-based company that developed the drug, has agreed to a discounted price for the NHS.

NICE said more research was needed on cannabis-based medicines before it could approve them for other forms of epilepsy. GW Pharmaceuticals is currently exploring whether Epidyolex could benefit people with West syndrome and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.

NICE has also approved the use of Sativex, a mouth spray that contains a mix of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, to help treat MS sufferers who experience spasms and muscle stiffening.

The new guidelines from NICE, however, have recommended doctors not prescribe cannabis-based medicines, particularly ones containing THC, to chronic pain sufferers, citing a lack of evidence.

Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs at the MS Society, said the approval of Sativex was a welcome announcement, but the omission of use for pain management was disappointing.

“These guidelines are an important first step, but don’t go far enough. No cannabis-based treatments have been recommended to treat pain, a common symptom of MS,” she said.  

“We’re calling on the next UK Government to accelerate research and remove barriers to this vital treatment, so cannabis for MS can finally become a reality.”

It became legal for specialist doctors (not GPs) in the UK to prescribe medicinal cannabis back in 2018 but without clear guidelines for prescriptions and funding, many were reluctant to do so. This led to families paying high costs for private prescriptions, and even seeking treatments outside of the UK and bringing it back illegally.

Two of the most high-profile cases that led to the legalization of medicinal cannabis involved Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, two children who both have severe epilepsy who were denied access to cannabis oil, the only thing their families claimed alleviated their seizures. After traveling abroad to procure it, the Home Office confiscated it on their return. Due to both a public backlash and the mounting evidence that cannabis holds real potential in treating health issues, the UK reviewed and updated its policies towards medical marijuana.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com

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First Cannabis-Based Medicines Have Been Approved For Use By England’s NHS

Two cannabis-based medicines have been approved for use by England’s National Health Service (NHS) for the first time. The medicines will be available to treat children with severe forms of two conditions, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS).

It’s the first time drugs containing cannabis have been greenlit for routine use by NHS England by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the nation’s drug watchdog.

After reviewing cannabis-based medicines for multiple conditions, NICE has approved the use of Epidyolex to treat two types of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut (a form of childhood-onset epilepsy) and Dravet (infant epilepsy caused by fever) syndromes, both of which are considered treatment-resistant. The drug comes in the form of an oral solution of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component in cannabis, which clinical trials have shown can help reduce the frequency of seizures by almost 50 percent in some children.

It is estimated there are up to 9,000 sufferers of Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet in the UK. The drug costs between £5,000 and £10,000 ($6,400 and $12,800) a year per patient but, BBC News reports, GW Pharmaceuticals, the British-based company that developed the drug, has agreed to a discounted price for the NHS.

NICE said more research was needed on cannabis-based medicines before it could approve them for other forms of epilepsy. GW Pharmaceuticals is currently exploring whether Epidyolex could benefit people with West syndrome and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex.

NICE has also approved the use of Sativex, a mouth spray that contains a mix of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, to help treat MS sufferers who experience spasms and muscle stiffening.

The new guidelines from NICE, however, have recommended doctors not prescribe cannabis-based medicines, particularly ones containing THC, to chronic pain sufferers, citing a lack of evidence.

Genevieve Edwards, Director of External Affairs at the MS Society, said the approval of Sativex was a welcome announcement, but the omission of use for pain management was disappointing.

“These guidelines are an important first step, but don’t go far enough. No cannabis-based treatments have been recommended to treat pain, a common symptom of MS,” she said.  

“We’re calling on the next UK Government to accelerate research and remove barriers to this vital treatment, so cannabis for MS can finally become a reality.”

It became legal for specialist doctors (not GPs) in the UK to prescribe medicinal cannabis back in 2018 but without clear guidelines for prescriptions and funding, many were reluctant to do so. This led to families paying high costs for private prescriptions, and even seeking treatments outside of the UK and bringing it back illegally.

Two of the most high-profile cases that led to the legalization of medicinal cannabis involved Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, two children who both have severe epilepsy who were denied access to cannabis oil, the only thing their families claimed alleviated their seizures. After traveling abroad to procure it, the Home Office confiscated it on their return. Due to both a public backlash and the mounting evidence that cannabis holds real potential in treating health issues, the UK reviewed and updated its policies towards medical marijuana.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com

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Neil Young faces US citizenship delay over marijuana use

The Canadian songwriter is pursuing dual citizenship in order to vote my conscience on Donald J Trump in the 2020 election

Neil Young is facing a delay in his application for US citizenship after honestly answering a question about his marijuana use.

In a letter to fans posted on his website, the Canadian songwriter said that he passed the test for citizenship, but that he has been called to take another test due to my use of marijuana and how some people who smoke it have a problem.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services added a policy in April 2019, proposed by Jeff Sessions during his period as attorney general, which states: An applicant who is involved in certain marijuana related activities may lack GMC (Good Moral Character) if found to have violated federal law, even if such activity is not unlawful under applicable state of foreign laws.

Sessions has supported the repeal of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment so that the justice department could prosecute suppliers of medical marijuana, despite President Trumps support for its legalisation.

Young wrote: I sincerely hope I have exhibited good moral character and will be able to vote my conscience on Donald J Trump and his fellow American candidates, (as yet un-named).

Young is widely known as a figurehead of the Los Angeles 1960s-70s Laurel Canyon scene. In October, he told the LA Times: Im still a Canadian; theres nothing that can take that away from me. But I live down here; I pay taxes down here; my beautiful family is all down here theyre all Americans, so I want to register my opinion.

Young has been critical of Trumps presidency, refusing him permission to use his 1989 hit Rockin in the Free World at campaign events, and criticising his stance on the November 2018 California wild fires, in which Young lost his home.

He recently told AP: I hope that people vote him out and I hope theres somebody reasonable to put back in there when they get rid of him.

Colorado, Youngs latest album with band Crazy Horse, was released in October.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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Biden says he won’t support federal legalization of marijuana

2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said recently that his concern about marijuana being a gateway drug is one reason that he has not called for legalizing the drug.

Specifically, Biden said theres not nearly been enough evidence to show that marijuana is not a gateway drug when asked about it at a town hall event in Las Vegas, Nevada, over the weekend, according to Business Insider.

The former vice president continued, saying that he would want a lot more evidence before legalizing it on a federal level, but he also thought possession of marijuana should not be a crime.

The truth of the matter is, theres not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug, Biden said, according to the news outlet. Its a debate, and I want a lot more before I legalize it nationally. I want to make sure we know a lot more about the science behind it.

In Bidens criminal justice reform plan on his campaign website, the former vice president calls for decriminalizing marijuana and expunging marijuana use convictions.

The plan also calls for legalizing medical marijuana and letting states decide whether they want to legalize it fully.

Bidens stance on marijuana legalization stands in contrast to many other 2020 rivals.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said, if elected president, he would legalize marijuana within the first 100 days of his presidency. (He also dropped his plan for legalization at 4:20 p.m.).

Other candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have also called for legalizing marijuana.Mayor Pete Buttigieg supports legalization, expunging past convictions, and not jailing people for possessing drugs.

Read more: http://www.dailydot.com/

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‘I’mnot convinced we will have fair elections in America’: Stacey Abrams’ fight against voter suppression

Abrams lost the race for Georgia governor, and she believes voter suppression played a central role so shes leading a nationwide voting rights campaign

One year ago, at an election night party in downtown Atlanta, Stacey Abrams took the stage and delivered a speech that could well have been made 60 years ago, when this city was known as the cradle of the civil rights movement.

Democracy only works when we work for it. When we fight for it. When we demand it, she said, the microphone peaking under the power of her voice. In a civilized nation, the machinery of democracy should work for everyone, everywhere. Not just in certain places. And not just on a certain day.

Abrams was then the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, attempting to become the countrys first black female state executive.

The race captivated America not only for its potential to make history. It also dredged up the countrys darkest past. African Americans in the deep south were once disenfranchised with literacy tests and other racist laws, and in recent years a surge in restrictive voting legislation, including voter identification laws and sweeping electoral roll purges, has ushered in an era described by some as a neo-Jim Crow.

Abrams did not win that night. Her opponent, the Trump-endorsed Republican Brian Kemp, eventually edged to victory by a thin, 55,000-vote margin. Abrams believes that voter suppression played a central role, which has led her to her next chapter: she has announced that for the next year, she will lead a nationwide voting rights campaign.

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Her goal is to export lessons she learned fighting voter suppression in Georgia, and to mobilize a base of progressives and marginalized communities to help Democrats win the White House in 2020. While many had urged her to consider a run for the presidency herself, she believes the new mission may be a more formidable undertaking.

I am not convinced at all that we will have free and fair elections unless we work to make it so, she said in August, during the first of several conversations with the Guardian. In America, we have the theory of free and fair elections, but unfortunately weve seen, particularly over the last 20 years, an erosion of the ability to access that right.

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‘Trump relies on voter suppression’: Stacey Abrams on her fight for voting rights video

The turning point came in a 2013 supreme court ruling that gutted the civil rights movements crowning achievement, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The ruling paved the way for a raft of state laws that have made voting harder across the country.

The vote is the most powerful nonviolent instrument of transformation we have in our democracy, said the Georgia civil rights veteran and US congressman John Lewis last year. There are forces trying to make it harder and more difficult for people to participate. And we must drown out these forces.

This is why today, the Guardian is launching The Fight to Vote, a series that will investigate why it is so hard for growing numbers of Americans to cast a ballot. In the run-up to the 2020 election, it will scrutinize compromised electoral systems, give a platform to voices silenced at the polls, and reveal how voter suppression is already shaping the 2020 election.

We are in a different era of voter suppression, Abrams says. But unfortunately it is a continued lineage of voter suppression that began with the inception of our country.

Former
Stacey Abrams meets Georgia voters in Metter, Monday November 5, 2018. Photograph: Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

****

We first meet on a bright and humid summers afternoon in an upmarket Atlanta suburb a few blocks from the headquarters of her new national voting rights campaign, Fair Fight 2020.

The campaign is now in its infancy, but aims to create a vast voter protection drive across the country, supporting teams in 20 battleground states to aid with registration and boost turnout among minority groups next year.

In September she appeared on stage at a concert with the pop artist Lizzo in New York, delivering a rousing speech urging young attendees to become part of the campaign. This was part of a broader goal of engaging younger communities of color by pushing the voting rights struggle into popular culture.

Every one of you is responsible for finding a rule that is wrong, she told the crowd. I want you to break that rule and write a new one.

Abrams sees this work, and her gubernatorial election last year, as the continuation of a struggle that has spanned generations. We believe in the right to vote, but, from the very beginning, communities have been distanced from it, she says.

Communities like her own. Born in the small, coastal city of Gulfport, at the southern tip of Mississippi, Abrams and her five siblings were taught about the critical importance of voting from a young age. Her parents, both Methodist ministers, were involved in the civil rights movement as teenagers her father was arrested for assisting voter registration in black communities while still in high school.

My parents took us with them when they voted, she says. They talked about why politics mattered. They made certain we watched the news and asked questions, because they wanted us to understand that our engagement, our ability to shape our communities, was directly tied to our votes, and they were very clear that they expected us to be voters.

Stacey
Stacey Abrams in Atlanta on 27 August 2019. Photograph: Peyton Fulford/The Guardian

The voting rights struggle has shifted significantly since her parents days. While voter suppression laws in various states no longer explicitly target particular groups, the method is more insidious, using carefully constructed policy to make it harder to register, to cast a vote and to have a ballot counted. It has fundamentally changed the electoral landscape in the United States.

Abrams home state of Georgia is an incubator for these new suppression tactics, and Kemp, her opponent last year, is a primary instigator. Beginning in 2010, he served as Georgias secretary of state, overseeing voting and elections, and controversially declined to step down from the post while he ran for governor, meaning he effectively oversaw his own election.

Since the landmark supreme court decision, which allowed states to impose new voting laws without federal approval, Georgia has enacted a swath of voter suppression laws, from rapidly purging the voter rolls of those deemed inactive, to the closure of hundreds of polling places, often in poorer black neighbourhoods. It introduced a new law terminating voter registration four weeks before the 2018 election day, preventing an estimated 87,000 people from voting.

The state also introduced a controversial exact match law requiring that details on new voter applications match precisely with government-issued documents meaning an errant hyphen or a changed married name can block the registration process. This system proved contentious last year after 53,000 applications mostly from African Americans were revealed to have stalled less than a month before election day.

We saw an implementation of almost every possible iteration of voter suppression, Abrams says. Yes, we became an incubator, but we also became a singularity where almost every one of those pieces [of suppression] was implemented by the person who would go on to become governor of the state.

Abrams accepts she cannot prove empirically that these policies altered the election outcome. But she also refuses to rule it out, and she has not formally conceded the election, a move Kemps campaign branded a disgrace to democracy. It is a slur she shrugs off as hypocritical posturing. Kemp, privately educated and wealthy, is to her a representative of the sort of conservative, white patriarchal power she has spent much of her career fighting against.

Attendees
Attendees look at a laptop computer during an election night watch party for Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, November 6th 2018. Photograph: Kevin D. Liles/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Brian Kemp is emblematic of what is happening across this country, which is that a community that has enjoyed a certain hegemony finds their control of power weakening, she says.

Critics have leveled the same charge at Donald Trump, who himself has spent much of his presidency casting false and inflammatory allegations of widespread illegal voting, the central justification for many voter suppression laws across the country. The president even appeared with Kemp during the 2018 campaign and reiterated a number of the conservative attacks on Abrams: that she had encouraged undocumented migrants to vote, would support widespread firearms confiscation, and was at the helm of a radical agenda across other areas of public life.

Nonetheless Abrams success at mobilizing a progressive base means that many observers now see Georgia, a Democratic stronghold until the late 90s, as a swing state once again.

She galvanized the most Democratic voters weve ever seen in Georgia, says Tharon Johnson, a veteran Democratic strategist in the state. She was able to get a lot of sporadic voters who historically dont come out in gubernatorial races, to turn out. She went to low-propensity voters folks that have moved or maybe fell off the voting rolls. I think the operation and apparatus she built then will be used to help elect a Democrat [next year].

She always had plans and knows what she wants to do

I
I became more and more afraid, reluctant to do the work of campaigning because I didnt want to pick up the phone and hear another person I admired tell me my skin color and gender would be my undoing. Photograph: Peyton Fulford/The Guardian

Abrams began to find her own political voice in the early 1990s, while studying at the historically black Spelman College in Atlanta.

She led organizing efforts when an unarmed black man, Rodney King, was assaulted by Los Angeles police in 1991. She appeared on TV news, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, alongside the citys first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, where the two sparred over Atlantas policing tactics. Jackson later gave Abrams her maiden job in politics as a research assistant for the city.

It was also at Spelman that Abrams begin to organize her life into a series of formal goals. Spurred by a romantic breakup at the time, she started entering her ambitions into a spreadsheet. By 24, she aimed to write a bestselling spy novel. By 30, she would become a millionaire. And at 35, the mayor of Atlanta. Her goals shifted over time she published eight romance novels rather than spy novels, and she was elected to the Georgia house of representatives in 2007.

Stacey has always been very, very direct, says her youngest sister, Jeanine Abrams McLean. She always had plans and knows what she wants to do and develops plans to make sure it gets done.

As leader of the Democratic minority, Abrams earned bipartisan respect for her practical approach to governance..

She may be the most brilliant woman or person Ive ever met, says Allen Peake, a former Georgia house Republican who supported Kemp in 2018. She is incredibly intelligent, incredibly quick on her feet, incredibly well prepared for every political battle she enters.

Peake mentions the time Abrams rallied Democrats to support a medical marijuana bill he worked on, as well as numerous GOP budgets passed with her support. She was very pragmatic, he says. Even so, he remains critical of her 2018 platform, which he characterizes as radical.

Kemps tenure as governor, meanwhile, has proved disastrous for progressive causes in the state, among the most rapidly diversifying in the country. He signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in America and has refused to expand healthcare provisions, despite polling indicating a majority of Georgians disapproved of both decisions.

Abrams describes this as a tyranny of the minority suppressing the vote, she argues, has led to the suppression of the views of the majority.

A
A mural featuring the face of Stacey Abrams in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Elijah Nouvelage/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It is not possible to win by only talking to those weve talked to before

There is an arresting passage in Abrams autobiography, Lead from the Outside, describing the doubts she battled as she announced her gubernatorial candidacy. Some of her closest friends and mentors declined to back her bid. Their message was blunt: Georgia was not ready to elect a black woman to high office. Abrams almost dropped out of the primary after one close mentor, who she does not name, declined to support her.

I became more and more afraid, reluctant to do the work of campaigning because I didnt want to pick up the phone and hear another person I admired tell me my skin color and gender would be my undoing, she writes in the book, which was published before last years election.

Even though she is pouring her energy into fighting voting suppression, and has been touted as a potential running mate for Joe Biden, those feelings are still devastating.

It remains a reason that I have people I thought were friends that I acknowledge now werent true friendships. A number of them came back after I won the primary, but its a conversation that helped me understand that this is not simply a trope held by those who oppose me as a Democrat. It was a trope held by those who just didnt believe in the capacity of communities of color to hold power.

The Democrats are hoping to win back the mostly white voters who swung to Trump in 2016, yet Abrams argues that embracing ostracized communities of color is essential.

Identity politics is good politics for Democrats, she says. It is not possible to win and to build the coalitions we need to build by only talking to those weve talked to before.

Abrams laughs a little awkwardly when asked if she has been approached by any of the candidates. No one has rung my phone yet. But she remains open. I think it would be fantastic to be invited to be someones running mate, but you cant plan your life around someone elses wishes.

Meanwhile, Abrams still maintains those spreadsheets she started writing back at university. She last updated one in February of this year. She struck off Governor of Georgia by 2018 from the list, and updated it to include her forthcoming work on voting rights.

But she didnt touch one goal that has been on there for years : president of the United States by 2028. Its still on there, but for later, she says.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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What happens when you try all the CBD products you can find?

Would the alleged magic of cannabidiol have an effect on me or is it all snake oils and placebos?

Shortly before I sat down to begin writing this, I squirted a 1 milliliter dropper of full-spectrum hemp extract, also known as CBD oil, under my tongue. It contained according to the bottle 6.25 mg of CBD per dosage, and tasted also per the bottles label of cold-pressed oranges.

I wasnt sure what to expect, if anything. But with the mania around CBD approaching fever pitch, I was curious to know if I, too, could in some way be touched by its allegedly remarkable powers of stress reduction, relaxation, and all-around wellbeing. We live in dire times. Whats the harm in trying to get away from it all without actually having to go anywhere?

I bought the oil a week ago at the 420 Store, which bills itself as New Yorks first luxury, dedicated CBD store. Most of its wares are displayed sparingly on pristine white shelves, and run the gamut from bath salts and skin creams to flavored gummies and tinctures. All contain some amount of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabis compound (different from THC, the plants main psychoactive compound).

The
The wide variety of OTC CBD products sampled. Photograph: Cole Wilson

The shop has a self-serious, high-gloss ambience, with a touch of wellness-derived spirituality thrown in, like some hybrid of Sephora and a Burning Man prayer circle. It made me want to laugh, but also made me mad, which is the same reaction I have to most attempts of the wellness industry to commodify and market the myriad stresses that accompany our attempts to exist in the modern world.

The 420 Store opened its doors in June, six months after hemp was removed from the FDAs list of controlled substances. Although there were already plenty of CBD products on the market, this had the effect of ungating a dam; suddenly CBD seemed to be everywhere, from bodega counters to subway ads to shiny Soho storefronts to Walgreens. CBD had effectively become the new pumpkin spice, sprinkled on products high and low and everywhere in-between in an attempt to cash in on its alleged magic.

CBD is purported to provide relief from a host of bodily ills like inflammation, pain and digestive problems to stress and anxiety. As such, the market is now crowded with CBD-infused chocolate bars, beverages, gummies, body lotions, pills, tinctures, face masks, and pain creams. The products are not limited to humans: a reportedly growing number of pet parents now turn to cannabidiol as the latest remedy to treat their pups.

I had read a lot about CBD in preparation for my experiment and had mixed, which is to say highly skeptical, feelings about it. On the one hand, I know plenty of people who have found relief from a host of ailments in both medical cannabis and CBD products. On the other, where opportunity appears, snake oil quickly follows. A 2017 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association compared 84 different CBD products sold online and found that almost 70% of them under- or over-labeled their dosages.

The
The effect of Wingeds Happiness softgels: I felt nothing (aside from disgust for the companys car salesman-esque messaging). Photograph: Cole Wilson

Dr Jordan Tishler founded and has run the Boston-based medical cannabis practice InhaleMD for six years (which in the cannabis world, makes him one of the old guys, he said). Hes also an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He takes a slightly dim view on the CBD gold rush. Im like, this is a side step; this is foolishness, he said. People are so obsessed with talking about CBD that theyve stopped talking about cannabis. And at the end of the day, cannabis is what helps my patients. CBD is close to useless.

Topicals, Tishler explained, wouldnt do anything to me (Theyre another mythology cannabinoids dont go through your skin, he said). Ingestible products such as vapes and oils might have an impact, but have been known to contain heavy metals like arsenic and mercury. The FDA doesnt regulate cannabis products, and many of them arent subjected to third-party laboratory testing. Tishler recommended buying products only from legitimate dispensaries that require a medical marijuana card, which I didnt have, so I went for the OTC variety.

I started with the topicals: TriBeautys CBD Superfood Mask, Tribe Revives CBD-infused pain cream, TriBeautys CBD eye cream, and Uncle Buds CBD body lotion. All of them smelled nice; the pain cream had a pleasant wintergreen aroma, while the face mask was redolent of pineapple (it doesnt actually include pineapple, though it does include kale, spinach, and green tea). And all of them were, well, creamy; I appreciated their ease of application and lack of discernible oiliness.

Did any of them make me feel anything? No. Of course they didnt; the only thing I felt was the menthol in the Tribe Revive pain cream, which made my arm tingle like Id slathered on Bengay. The amount I was getting from the creams was miniscule, in the ballpark of 1 to 5 mg. The doses that tend to be effective in humans, says Tishler, are 10 to 20 mg per kilogram. The average human is about 70 kg, he says. Thats 700 to 1400 mg of CBD per day. Nobody can get that.

diptych

Annoyed but not surprised, I pressed on to ingestibles. I bought the Vitamin Shoppes Ancient Nutritions organic CBD hemp caplets (10 mg) and Wingeds Happiness mood support complex, (15 mg of CBD per soft gel, uniquely formulated for women). From the 420 Store, I bought Wylds blackberry gummies (25 mg per gummy); Grns Fair Trade dark chocolate bar (100 mg per $23.99 bar yes, you read the price correctly); and Toasts cold-pressed orange tincture (250 mg of CBD per one-ounce bottle) the one I took before I started writing this. From TribeTokes, I tried Tribe Tincs full-spectrum CBD tincture (1,500 mg of CBD per one-ounce bottle).

Had I taken them all at once, I would have easily exceeded the 700 mg mark, but the thought of potentially incapacitating myself with CBD was not appealing. I had a job and shit to do. So I proceeded with some vague sense of moderation.

Unlike the lack of effectiveness of the topicals, the ingestibles presented a spectrum of results. On one end were capsules by Winged. One capsules evening primrose oil and good mood complex, it read, may support balanced hormone levels as well as the brains happy neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Get your smile on girl! Instead, I felt nothing (aside from disgust for the companys car salesman-esque messaging) .

Toasts tincture did taste and smell just like oranges, as advertised, but was similarly uneventful. As for the Grn bar, it tasted like any other decent artisan chocolate bar, but the idea of eating the whole thing just to glean some kind of purported CBD effect was unappetizing. So I gave up, unaltered.

Wylds
Wylds 25 mg gummies seemed to alter my outlook on the day. Photograph: COLE_WILSON/Cole Wilson

Trying to toe the line between Tishlers recommended effective dosage, my need to be a functioning adult, and, at this point, determined to feel something, I took the Tribe Tincs prescribed 50 mg dosage. While I disagree with its claim of flavorlessness to me, it carried a definite note of weedy funk it did produce a noticeable feeling of general wellbeing, a sense that life had somehow become something I didnt need to worry about very much.

I felt my mind stray from thoughts of deadlines, rising sea levels, and the presidents sphincter-like visage to how beautiful my bag of frozen compost looked when I removed it from the freezer. Whether this was because I took it on the weekend or wasnt feeling particularly anxious to begin with, I dont know; theres also the possibility of the (very real) placebo effect. But what I can say is that, for whatever reason, 50 mg of CBD seemed to have a positive effect on me, insofar as it seemed to redirect my mind to a more sunny locale.

Likewise, taking one of Wylds 25 mg gummies seemed to alter my outlook on the day. It helped that the gummies actually taste like blackberries and are thus delicious; they also have a pleasing soft-chewy texture. Not long after taking one, I started to feel somewhat relaxed so relaxed that I literally walked into traffic later that afternoon (thankfully, it was moving slowly, as was I).

For my last adventure in CBD, I decided to go big, and also straight to the source. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, I climbed a flight of stairs to the snug but brightly lit Lower Manhattan office of Tribe Tokes. There I was greeted by Kim Byrnes, the companys cofounder, who proceeded to guide me through a CBD dab. Byrnes, clad in midriff-bearing athleisure wear (shes also a longtime pilates instructor) is an incredibly enthusiastic proponent of both CBD and THC both, she told me, have helped her treat her ulcerative colitis and other ailments. She sounded almost encyclopedic as she talked about the numerous methods of CBD ingestion and their comparative merits.

The
The Grn CBD chocolate bar costs $23.99. Photograph: COLE_WILSON/Cole Wilson

A dab is a highly concentrated form of CBD, containing about 10-15 mg of CBD. You inhale its vapor through a dab rig, a close cousin to the bong. The result, Byrnes said, is a body high it feels nice and relaxed and calm.

She put a concentrate of 7 Point Naturals CBD Terp Sauce, a mix of CBD crystals and cannabis terpenes (organic compounds) in the rigs nail and heated it up. I sucked the resulting vapor deep into my lungs, and, because Im a rank amateur, scorched my esophagus. But on my second pull, I managed to get light-headed for a minute, and then felt fine.

It was only after leaving the TribeTokes office that I began to understand what Byrnes was talking about. All of the afternoons obstacles seemed to fall away from me, leaving me to walk a clear, gloriously smooth path through the rest of my day. Tourists walking four abreast down the sidewalk? Whatever, I thought. Theyre just enjoying my citys unparalleled beauty. A 15-minute wait for the train home? Not a problem, I thought; more time to watch adorable rats frolic on the tracks.

I felt beatific rather than annoyed by all of the obstacles the city placed in my path. But more than anything, I felt lucky. I am lucky that Im at a point in my life where Im not suffering from aches and pains or even much anxiety, aside from the usual geopolitical-climate-crisis-end-of-days variety. Had I written this story a few months ago, when I was dealing with the aftermath of a terrible relationship and wrenching shoulder and back pain, I might have been much more receptive to the claims being made by the CBD industry. But on this day, I was a contented skeptic.

My head felt clear, my limbs felt loose, and the world rolled out its carpet in front of me, beckoning me to bask in the sunshine of my minds own invention.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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5 Takeaways From Tuesday’s Democratic Debate: The Elizabeth Warren Pile-On

The fourth Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night confirmed what has been evident in the polls for some time: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has overtaken former Vice President Joe Biden as the front-runner in the race for the party’s nomination.

The other candidates on stage in Westerville, Ohio, treated the senator from Massachusetts as the new favorite, hammering her repeatedly over her evasiveness when confronted with questions about her health care and wealth inequality plans.

Biden, in contrast to the previous debates, often seemed like more of an after-thought. The former vice president still got in his hits against President Donald Trump, but his rivals mostly ignored him.

Here are some key takeaways from the debate.

Welcome to life as a front-runner, Elizabeth Warren.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and businessman Andrew Yang all took shots at Warren.

Buttigieg and Klobuchar got that bandwagon going early when they criticized Warren for not giving a straight answer to a question about whether middle-class taxes would go up under “Medicare for All,” a government-sponsored health care proposal she has backed.

“Your signature is to have a plan for everything, except this,” Buttigieg said. “No plan has been laid out to explain how a multitrillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Sen. Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in.”

Klobuchar quickly piled on: “I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but … the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done.”

Warren responded by repeating her usual answer when challenged on this point, focusing on the bottom-line effect the plan would have on middle-class families and pledging she wouldn’t support a proposal that raised overall costs for them.

Republicans have also attacked Warren over not being willing to address the question, which she has dismissed as “Republican framing.”

Klobuchar and O’Rourke also went after Warren over her proposal to levy a 2% tax on the super-rich.

“I want to give a reality check here to Elizabeth; nobody on this stage wants to protect billionaires,” Klobuchar said.

In a nod to Tom Steyer, the wealthy hedge fund manager who just recently entered the presidential race and was participating in his first debate, Klobuchar wryly added, “Not even the billionaire wants to protect the billionaires.”

O’Rourke joined in by accusing Warren of being “more focused on being punitive or pitting one part of the country against the other instead of lifting people up.”

Yang called out Warren for not addressing the threat automation poses to U.S. workers. That prompted several other candidates to address his signature universal basic income proposal ― perhaps the biggest coup for his campaign so far.

Biden meandered in talking about the Ukraine flap.

Biden didn’t directly answer if it was wrong that during his tenure as vice president, his son Hunter served as a board member for the Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings ― which spurred Trump’s controversial phone call to Ukraine’s president, which in turn could lead to Trump’s impeachment.

“I never discussed a single thing with my son about anything to do with Ukraine. … We always kept everything separate,” Biden said about his son’s work overseas. “There would be no potential conflict. My son made a judgment. I’m proud of the judgment he made … the fact of the matter is this is about Trump’s corruption.”

Hunter Biden acknowledged in an interview with ABC airing Tuesday that it was “poor judgment” on his part to join the venture, and conceded it was likely that his last name helped him professionally.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker actually gave a more succinct answer in defense of Biden, noting the hypocrisy of Trump and Republicans seeking to attempt to make hay of the matter, given the financial conflicts of interest that cloud the Trump administration

“We are literally using Donald Trump’s lies, and the second issue we cover on this stage is elevating a lie and attacking a statesman,” Booker said, referring to Joe Biden.

Buttigieg, Klobuchar made a play for the middle lane.

Buttigieg and Klobuchar may have delivered their best debate performances yet.

Buttigieg, in particular, seemed to put more sustained effort into positioning himself as an alternative for centrists to Biden. He played up his small-town roots by recalling driving past closed factories while growing up in the post-industrial Midwest. The 37-year-old also repeatedly expressed his aversion to Washington elites, calling out “senators” and “congressmen” who have not gotten many things done during his “entire adult life.”

During a conversation on foreign policy and Trump’s recent decision to withdraw troops in Syria, Buttigieg drew applause after he called for the U.S. to stand by its allies.

“The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values,” he said. 

Buttigieg made another nod to more moderate voters when he called out O’Rourke for not giving more details on how the Texan’s proposed mandatory buyback program for assault weapons and a voluntary buyback program for handguns would work.

“I don’t need lessons from you on courage ― political or personal,” Buttigieg, a military veteran, told O’Rourke in one sharp exchange.

Bernie Sanders bounced back.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders didn’t look or sound like a guy who had a heart attack two weeks ago. He was as animated as ever, landing sharp blows against Trump and other Democrats on stage.

“I’m healthy, I’m feeling great,” said the 78-year-old when asked about his health and age.

After Booker jokingly interjected that Sanders supports medical marijuana, Sanders quipped, “I’m not on it tonight.” The line elicited laughter and applause from the audience. 

But Sanders’ best moment may have been a fast-ball at Biden after the former vice president asserted that he knew how to “get stuff done,” and that he didn’t simply offer plans about how to do so.

“You know what else you got done? You got the disastrous war in Iraq done. You got a bankruptcy bill that’s hurting middle-class Americans all over the country,” Sanders retorted, referring to positions Biden took as a senator from Delaware.

There were some missed opportunities.

Steyer, whose focus is on combating climate change, started strong in the debate’s opening act, saying that “every candidate here is more decent, more coherent and more patriotic than the criminal in the White House.”

That may have been his only good line of the night, however, as the debate hummed along and he barely made his presence felt.

California Sen. Kamala Harris also needed a breakout moment ― similar to the one she enjoyed in the first debate in June ― to reverse her struggling poll numbers. She won applause and good marks from women’s rights groups when she noted that none of the previous encounters had featured any direct questions about reproductive rights, calling the omission “outrageous.”

Ultimately, this debate did feature such a query. But Harris, meanwhile, had nothing that would qualify as a standout remark or exchanges.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

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