With Resignation of CEO, What Direction for US News Agencies?

The announcement of John Lansing’s resignation as CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media is renewing questions about the mission and direction of the broadcasters it oversees.

The USAGM directly manages five international news entities, including Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America. Combined, the USAGM broadcasters transmit in 61 languages and have an unduplicated weekly audience of 345 million.

Lansing, 62, a veteran cable TV executive, was named CEO of USAGM in 2015 and has now served under two presidents. He will formally leave the agency at the end of September and start in mid-October as CEO of the domestic National Public Radio network.

“John Lansing is going to leave behind a really remarkable legacy,” said Amanda Bennett, director of the Voice of America. “He really focused USAGM on issues of a free and independent press. That’s going to be his legacy. That, and his sunny disposition.”

President Donald Trump has nominated documentary filmmaker Michael Pack to replace Lansing. Pack, a senior fellow and former president at the Claremont Institute in California, has collaborated on film projects with former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon.

Pack’s name was sent to the Senate in January but has been stuck in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Efforts to reach committee Chairman Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, and ranking member Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, were unsuccessful.

Pack could become the CEO in one of two ways: by Senate approval or appointment by the advisory Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a bipartisan panel that includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pack’s nomination sparked debate about Trump’s intentions for the agency, as has the president’s own words and repeated criticism of the U.S. media.

On Twitter last November, Trump complained about unfair coverage by CNN and mused, “Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!”

A few days later, Bennett published an op-ed in The Washington Post stating that such a network already existed: VOA.

Under VOA’s charter, its journalists are required to report “accurate, objective and comprehensive” news. Other legal provisions, collectively known as the “firewall,” protect VOA journalists from political interference in their work.

“Whoever the next CEO is, they need to look at the history of the agency,” said Danforth Austin, a former reporter and executive at The Wall Street Journal who served as VOA director from 2006 to 2011.

Changed focus

Austin said that during WWII, and then the Cold War, VOA and the other U.S.-funded news entities were largely a propaganda tool. But from the 1960s on, they transformed into solid journalistic organizations with a mandate to provide balanced and independent news.

“There are all kinds of different groups with different ideas of what we should or shouldn’t be broadcasting,” Austin said. “I recall getting calls from the State Department saying, ‘You can’t do that!’ I would always politely suggest they call the secretary of state and hang up the phone.”

“Propaganda or news, you have to decide, ‘What’s the most effective approach?’ ” he added.

FILE – House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., walks through the Hall of Columns at the Capitol as House Democratic chairs gather for a meeting with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in Washington, March 27, 2019.

Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Although he has no vote in the Senate, his committee wields influence on Capitol Hill over USAGM.

Engel praised Lansing on Friday for putting the USAGM’s networks “ … on a path toward becoming modern, effective news organizations providing unbiased information in some of the world’s most closed media spaces.”

But he said that if the Senate does not confirm Pack in a timely manner, the BBG should exercise its power and appoint someone.

“The existing Board of Governors retains the power to name a replacement. I urge the board to do so immediately, as we can’t predict when the Senate may act on the president’s nominee. This is too important a job to be left vacant for even a day,” he added.

The USAGM has its share of critics. Engel’s predecessor, former Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican, has called it a “broken agency.” Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state, said the agency was “practically defunct in terms of its capacity to tell a message around the world.”

Bennett and Austin attributed audience growth under Lansing to a focus on independent and unbiased news coverage. In 2018, its audience expanded 24%, a record.

“Sixty percent of our audience around the world believes us and trusts us,” Bennett said. “John’s focus on editorial independence is what must carry on if we’re not to squander that trust built up over the years.”

US Tells Migrant Woman 8 Months Pregnant to Wait in Mexico

Eight-and-a-half-months pregnant and experiencing contractions, a Salvadoran woman who had crossed the Rio Grande and was apprehended by the Border Patrol was forced to go back to Mexico.

Agents took her to the hospital, where doctors gave her medication to stop the contractions. And then, according to the woman and her lawyer, she was almost immediately sent back to Mexico.

There, she joined the more than 38,000 people forced to wait across the border for immigration court hearings under a rapidly expanding Trump administration policy. And her plight highlights the health risks and perils presented by the “Remain in Mexico” program.

The woman was waiting Thursday with her 3-year-old daughter in a makeshift tent camp in Matamoros, Mexico, next to an international bridge, due to give birth any day, said her attorney, Jodi Goodwin.

“She’s concerned about having the baby in the street or having to have the baby in a shelter,” Goodwin said.

A group of Mexican asylum-seekers wait near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, Aug. 30, 2019. Pregnant women face special hazards in Mexico because places where migrants wait often don’t have access to medical care.

Pregnant women face special hazards in Mexico because places where migrants wait to enter the U.S. often don’t have access to regular meals, clean water and medical care.

Many shelters at the Mexico border are at or above capacity, and some families have been sleeping in tents or on blankets in the blistering summer heat. Reports have abounded of migrants being attacked or kidnapped in Mexican border cities, especially in Tamaulipas state across from South Texas, where the Salvadoran mother is waiting for a November court date.

The Associated Press is not identifying the woman from El Salvador because she fears for her safety.

The U.S. government does not automatically exempt pregnant women from the “Remain in Mexico” program. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment on the woman’s case.

The program, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols, was instituted by the U.S. and Mexico as a way of deterring migrants from crossing the border to seek asylum. Mexico has cooperated with the expansion of the program at the behest of President Donald Trump, who threatened crippling tariffs in June if Mexico did not do more to stop migrants.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said people in “vulnerable populations” may be exempt from being sent to Mexico. But pregnant women are not necessarily considered vulnerable by CBP, a subsidiary of the department.

“In some cases, pregnancy may not be observable or disclosed, and may not in and of itself disqualify an individual from being amenable for the program,” CBP said in a statement. “Agents and officers would consider pregnancy, when other associated factors exist, to determine amenability for the program.”

Migrants, many who were returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program, wait in line to get a meal in an encampment near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, Aug. 30, 2019.

Goodwin provided copies of the 28-year-old woman’s immigration paperwork and the bracelet from when she was admitted to Valley Regional Medical Center.

“In this particular case, this woman was actually taken to the hospital by CBP,” she said. “There’s no way that CBP could suggest that her pregnancy wasn’t known.”

The paperwork instructs her to return to Brownsville on Nov. 14 for a court hearing.

The U.S. government is establishing temporary tent courtrooms in Brownsville and Laredo, Texas, where immigration judges from around the U.S. will hear migrants’ cases by video. The hearings will start in those cities later this month.

The woman’s notice lists her address as a migrant shelter in Matamoros several miles from the primary international bridge near the camp where she is staying. Goodwin says she has never been to that shelter.

There are at least six cases of pregnant women border-wide who have been sent back to Mexico, according to U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who recently sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general demanding an investigation into the issue. Goodwin also represents a woman from Peru who was seven months pregnant when border agents allowed her to enter, only to send her back to Mexico the next day.

Mexico offers limited health coverage to people regardless of nationality that includes some of the screenings a pregnant woman needs, said Lina Villa, a Mexico-based health official for Doctors Without Borders. But many migrants don’t know that they can get that coverage, she said.

As their deliveries near, many migrant women aren’t sure whether they’ll have access to a hospital and if they will need surgery, Villa said. They are worried about their child being born in Mexico instead of the U.S. and what that might mean for their prospects of eventually entering the U.S., she said.

“It’s a very, very difficult group of people that needs a lot of help, and they don’t get enough,” she said.

Brexit Crisis Grows as Opposition Rejects Snap Election Call

Britain’s bedeviling Brexit dilemma intensified Friday, as opposition parties refused to support Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for an election until he secures a delay to Britain’s exit from the European Union — something he vows he’ll never do.

Johnson insists Britain must leave the EU in 55 days, and says an election is the only way to break the deadlock that has seen lawmakers repeatedly reject the divorce deal on offer, but also block attempts to leave the EU without one.

He wants to go to the public on Oct. 15, two weeks before the scheduled Brexit day of Oct. 31, but needs the support of two-thirds of lawmakers to trigger a snap election.

Johnson lost a vote on the same question this week, but he plans to try again Monday.

Standoff

After discussions Friday, lawmakers from several opposition parties said they would not back an election unless the government asked the EU to postpone Brexit, removing the risk the U.K. could crash out without a deal. Johnson says he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit.

Anti Brexit campaigner Gina Miller speaks to the media outside the High Court in London, Sept. 6, 2019. The High Court has rejected a claim that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is acting unlawfully.

Parliament is trying to force his hand, passing an opposition-backed law that would compel Johnson’s Conservative government to seek a three-month Brexit postponement if no divorce deal is agreed by Oct. 19.

The legislation was approved Friday by the unelected House of Lords, after gaining backing from the elected House of Commons earlier this week. It will become law within days once it gets the formality of royal assent.

But pro-EU lawmakers want to hold off on triggering an election until the Brexit delay has actually been secured, fearing Johnson will try to wriggle out of the commitment.

“I do not trust the prime minister to do his duty,” said Liz Saville Roberts, leader in Parliament of the Welsh party Plaid Cymru.

She said lawmakers needed to be sitting in Parliament in late October, rather than on the election campaign trail, to ensure Britain does not crash out of the EU. That makes an election before November unlikely.

“We need to make sure that we get past the 31st of October,” she said.

Risky plan

Blocking an election is a risky strategy for the opposition, which could be accused of denying the public its say.

The Conservative Party on Friday tweeted a mocked-up image of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in a chicken suit, and Johnson said he had “never known an opposition in the history of democracy that’s refused to have an election.”

“I think obviously they don’t trust the people, they don’t think that the people will vote for them, so they’re refusing to have an election,” he said.

Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “An early general election is now a question of when' notif’ — but Johnson mustn’t be allowed to dictate the timing as a device to avoid scrutiny and force through a ‘no deal’ Brexit.”

Johnson’s options are unclear if he loses Monday’s vote. He could call a no-confidence vote in his own government, which would only need a simple majority to pass. He could try to change the law that governs how elections can be triggered. He could even resign.

In short, it’s a complicated mess.

Johnson became prime minister in July after promising Conservatives that he would complete Brexit and break the impasse that has paralyzed Britain’s politics since voters decided in June 2016 to leave the bloc and which brought down his predecessor, Theresa May.

After only six weeks in office, however, his plans are in crisis. The EU refuses to renegotiate the deal it struck with May, which has been rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament.

Opposition in courts

Johnson’s push to leave the EU at the end of next month, come what may, is facing opposition in the courts as well as in Parliament. Most economists say a no-deal Brexit would cause severe economic disruption and plunge the U.K. into recession.

Johnson enraged his opponents by announcing he would suspend Parliament at some point next week until Oct. 14, leaving just over two weeks to the deadline. Critics accused him of subverting democracy and carrying out a “coup.”

Transparency campaigner Gina Miller took the government to court, arguing the suspension was an “unlawful abuse of power.”

On Friday, a panel of three High Court judges ruled against her, but said the case can be appealed to the Supreme Court, which has set a hearing for Sept. 17.

Outside court, Miller said she was disappointed with the ruling but would not give up.

“We need to protect our institutions,” she said.” It is not right that they should be shut down or bullied, especially at this momentous time in our history.”

‘Quite a mess’

Johnson insists he wants to secure a divorce deal, and his chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, was in Brussels Friday for talks with EU officials. But the bloc says Britain has made no concrete proposals for changes to May’s rejected deal.

EU officials say it seems increasingly likely Britain will depart without an agreement.

“The situation in Britain is quite a mess now and we don’t know what is happening there,” said Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

“It seems very obvious that we are not getting Brexit with an agreement,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Founding Father Hailed as Hero and Villain, Dies at 95

Robert  Mugabe, who ruled the southern African nation of Zimbabwe for 37 years following the end of white minority rule in 1980, has died.  He was 95 years old. Some hailed Mugabe as a liberation hero, but others say he destroyed the economy of what was once Africa’s breadbasket, rigged elections and terrorized his people for decades. VOA’s Anita Powell looks at his life and legacy.
 

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe: From Liberator to Oppressor

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe was feted as an African liberation hero and champion of racial reconciliation when he first came to power in a nation divided by nearly a century of white colonial rule.

Nearly four decades later, many at home and abroad denounced him as a power-obsessed autocrat willing to unleash death squads, rig elections and trash the economy in the relentless pursuit of control.

Mugabe, was ultimately ousted by his own armed forces in November 2017.

He demonstrated his tenacity — some might say stubbornness — to the last, refusing to accept his expulsion from his own ZANU-PF party and clinging on for a week until parliament started to impeach him after the de facto coup.

His resignation triggered wild celebrations across the country of 13 million. For Mugabe, it was an “unconstitutional and humiliating” act of betrayal by his party and people, and left him a broken man.

Confined for the remaining years of his life between Singapore where he was receiving medical treatment and his sprawling “Blue Roof” mansion in Harare, an ailing Mugabe could only observe from afar the political stage where he once strode tall. He was bitter to the end over the manner of his exit.

On the eve of the July 2018 election, the first without him, he told reporters he would vote for the opposition, something unthinkable only a few months before.

FILE – Grace Marufu, bride of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe waves at guests, Aug. 17, 1996, after their wedding ceremony at the Kutama Catholic mission, 42 miles, (80kms) west of Harare.

Took power in 1980

Educated and urbane, Mugabe took power in 1980 after seven years of a liberation bush war and — until the army’s takeover — was the only leader Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, knew since independence from Britain.

But as the economy imploded starting from 2000 and his mental and physical health waned, Mugabe found fewer people to trust as he seemingly smoothed a path to succession for his wife, Grace, four decades his junior and known to her critics as “Gucci Grace” for her reputed fondness for luxury shopping.

“It’s the end of a very painful and sad chapter in the history of a young nation, in which a dictator, as he became old, surrendered his court to a gang of thieves around his wife,” Chris Mutsvangwa, leader of Zimbabwe’s influential liberation war veterans, told Reuters after Mugabe’s removal.

‘A jewel’

Born on Feb. 21, 1924, on a Roman Catholic mission near Harare, Mugabe was educated by Jesuit priests and worked as a primary school teacher before going to South Africa’s University of Fort Hare, then a breeding ground for African nationalism.


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WATCH: Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Founding Father Hailed as Hero and Villain, Dies at 95

Returning to then-Rhodesia in 1960, he entered politics but was jailed for a decade four years later for opposing white rule.

When his infant son died of malaria in Ghana in 1966, Mugabe was denied parole to attend the funeral, a decision by the government of white-minority leader Ian Smith that historians say played a part in explaining Mugabe’s subsequent bitterness.

After his release, he rose to the top of the powerful Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, known as the “thinking man’s guerrilla” on account of his seven degrees, three of them earned behind bars.

Later, as he crushed his political enemies, he boasted of another qualification: “a degree in violence.”

FILE – Patriotic Front leader Robert Mugabe, right, gives a press conference in Geneva, Oct. 29, 1976.

After the war ended in 1980, Mugabe was elected the nation’s first black prime minister.

“You have inherited a jewel in Africa. Don’t tarnish it,” Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere told him during the independence celebrations in Harare.

At first, reconciliation

Initially, Mugabe offered forgiveness and reconciliation to old foreign and domestic adversaries, including Smith, who remained on his farm and continued to receive a government pension.

In his early years, he presided over a booming economy, spending money on roads and dams and expanding schooling for black Zimbabweans as part of a wholesale dismantling of the racial discrimination of colonial days.

With black and white tension easing, by the mid-1980s many whites who had fled to Britain or South Africa, then still under the yoke of apartheid, were trying to come home.

Owen Maseko’s painting of the 1987 Unity Accord between Robert Mugabe (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo (ZAPU) which brought the ZANU-PF party into existence. The painting shows a bloodied Nkomo bending over the accord, while Mugabe is the other individual at the table.

No challengers

But it was not long before Mugabe began to suppress challengers, including liberation war rival Joshua Nkomo.

Faced with a revolt in the mid-1980s in the western province of Matabeleland that he blamed on Nkomo, Mugabe sent in North Korean-trained army units, provoking an international outcry over alleged atrocities against civilians.

Human rights groups say 20,000 people died, most of them from the minority Ndebele tribe from which Nkomo’s partisans were largely drawn. The discovery of mass graves prompted accusations of genocide.

After two terms as prime minister, Mugabe tightened his grip on power by changing the constitution, and he became president in 1987. His first wife, Sally, who had been seen by many as the only person capable of restraining him, died in 1992.

A turning point came at the end of the decade when Mugabe, by now a leader unaccustomed to accommodating the will of the people, suffered his first major defeat at the hands of voters, in a referendum on another constitution. He blamed his loss on the white minority, chastising them as “enemies of Zimbabwe.”

Days later, a groundswell of black anger at the slow pace of land reform started boiling over and gangs of black Zimbabweans calling themselves war veterans started to overrun white-owned farms.

FILE – A Zimbabwean farm laborer shows the scars of an attack on him by so-called “war veterans” supporting President Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe’s response was uncompromising, labeling the invasions a correction of colonial injustices.

“Perhaps we made a mistake by not finishing the war in the trenches,” he said in 2000. “If the settlers had been defeated through the barrel of a gun, perhaps we would not be having the same problems.” 

The farm seizures helped ruin one of Africa’s most dynamic economies, with a collapse in agricultural foreign exchange earnings unleashing hyperinflation.

The economy shrank by more than a third from 2000 to 2008, sending unemployment above 80%. Several million Zimbabweans fled, mostly to South Africa.

Brushing aside criticism, Mugabe portrayed himself as a radical African nationalist competing against racist and imperialist forces in Washington and London.

FILE – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, left, shakes hands with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, May 22, 2013, after he signed the new constitution into law in Harare.

Rock bottom

The country hit rock bottom in 2008, when 500 billion percent inflation drove people to support the challenge of Western-backed former union leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Facing defeat in a presidential run-off, Mugabe resorted to violence, forcing Tsvangirai to withdraw after scores of his supporters were killed by ZANU-PF thugs.

South Africa, Zimbabwe’s neighbor to the south, squeezed the pair into a fractious unity coalition but the compromise belied Mugabe’s grip on power through his continued control of the army, police and secret service.

As old age crept in and rumors of cancer intensified, his animosity towards Tsvangirai eased and the two men enjoyed weekly meetings over tea and scones, in a nod to Mugabe’s affection for British traditions.

On the eve of the 2013 election, Mugabe dismissed cries of autocracy and likened dealing with Tsvangirai to sparring in the ring.

“Although we boxed each other, it’s not as hostile as before,” he told reporters.

Even as he spoke, Mugabe’s agents were busy finalizing plans to engineer an election victory through manipulation of the voters’ roll, according to the Tsvangirai camp.

It was typical of Mugabe’s ability to outthink — and if necessary outfight — his opponents, a trait that drew grudging respect from even his sternest critics.

Writing in a 2007 cable released by WikiLeaks, then-U.S. ambassador to Harare Christopher Dell reflected the views of many: “To give the devil his due, he is a brilliant tactician.”

Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe Dies

Robert Mugabe, the guerrilla leader who led Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 and ruled with an iron fist until his own army ended his almost four decade rule, has died. He was 95.

Mugabe died in Singapore, where he has often received medical treatment in recent years, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

His death was confirmed by Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

It is with the utmost sadness that I announce the passing on of Zimbabwe’s founding father and former President, Cde Robert Mugabe (1/2)

— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) September 6, 2019

On leading Zimbabwe to independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe was feted as an African liberation hero and champion of racial reconciliation.

But later, many at home and abroad denounced him as a power-obsessed autocrat willing to unleash death squads, rig elections and trash the economy in the relentless pursuit of control.

Mugabe was forced to resign in November 2017 after an army coup.

His resignation triggered wild celebrations across the country of 13 million. Mugabe denounced his removal as an “unconstitutional and humiliating” act of betrayal by his party and people, and it left him a broken man.

In November, Mnangagwa said Mugabe was no longer able to walk when he had been admitted to a hospital in Singapore, without saying what treatment Mugabe had been undergoing.

Officials often said he was being treated for a cataract, denying frequent private media reports that he had prostate cancer.

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon Want asylum in Canada

Waving Palestinian and Canadian flags, hundreds of Palestinian refugees gathered outside the Canadian Embassy in Beirut on Thursday requesting asylum in the North American country.

Many among the group lamented the deteriorating economic and living conditions in Lebanon, which is going through a severe economic crisis, and said they wanted a more dignified life.
 
There are tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Lebanon. Most of them live in squalid camps with no access to public services, limited employment opportunities and no rights to ownership.
 
“We want to immigrate, we want to go to Canada for a better life. There is no work or money or anything here. I got a stroke and did open heart surgery, no one helped me,” said Haneya Mohammed, one of the protesters.
 
The periodic protests outside the embassy on the coastal highway north of Beirut began a few weeks ago, after a crackdown on undocumented foreign labor by Lebanese authorities, triggering protests inside some of the 12 camps spread across the country and in Beirut.
 
The protesters gathered Thursday also decried what they say is widespread corruption at the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA.
 
They held banners that read: “We want to live with dignity” and “We demand humanitarian asylum” in Arabic and English.  
 
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA, is dealing with a budget crunch after an unprecedented loss of all funding from the United States, its largest donor.

 

 

India Says Landline Phone Service Fully Restored in Kashmir

Officials say they have restored all landline phone service in Indian-administered Kashmir after suspending most communications, including mobile internet, on Aug. 5 when India’s Hindu nationalist-led government revoked the Muslim-majority region’s special constitutional status and imposed a strict security lockdown.
 
In Srinagar, the disputed region’s main city, people lined up at offices or homes that have landline telephones to contact family and friends after being cut off for a month.
 
Cellphone and internet services have not been restored.

Native American Hemp Growers Hope to Cash In on Super Plant

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp and gave Native American tribes, as sovereign entities, the same rights as states to control and regulate its production.  This month, tribal farmers across the nation will harvest their first legitimate crop, hoping to cash in on a global market worth billions of dollars. But whether their product will make it to market this year is still up in the air.

In early June, Oglala Lakota tribe member Alex White Plume gathered together three generations of his extended family to plant their first-ever legal industrial hemp crop on land he owns on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

After fighting for two decades for the right to grow hemp, it was a joyful occasion, marked by prayer and song. But as the summer draws to a close, White Plume has grown increasingly anxious.

“I’m three weeks away from harvest,” he said. “Right now, it’s just tense. And sometimes it’s overbearing, cause you don’t know whether you are going to be able to sell or not.”

Photo shows Oglala Lakota hemp growers Alex and Debra White Plume standing in their hemp field on the Pine Ridge Reservation, S.D., August 29, 2019.

In 1970, the federal government banned the growing of industrial hemp, once a legal crop in the U.S. The Controlled Substances Act made no distinction between hemp, an agricultural product, and marijuana, a drug. 

Telling the difference

Both hemp and marijuana are varieties of the cannabis plant.  While they may look and smell alike, they differ chemically.  Marijuana (Cannabis indica) contains as much as 20% or 25% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that induces a “high.”  Hemp (Cannabis sativa) contains less than .3 percent THC. 

One of the most versatile plants on the planet, hemp’s seeds, fibers and oils can be used to make health supplements, paper, fabric, biodegradable plastic, biofuels and even cars and airplanes

Hemp advocates view it as a super plant — one that can bolster the U.S. economy, as well as arrest climate change. 

Hemp could also transform broken tribal economies.

In this file photo, a young girl rides her bike on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern S.D. on Tuesday , Jan. 10, 2006. At least 60% of Pine Ridge homes are substandard, lacking electricity, running water or sewage systems. (AP Photo…

The 2014 Farm Bill loosened restrictions, allowing hemp to be grown for research purposes only in states that made it legal. The new law allowed Indian tribes to partner with various states or universities to cultivate hemp on tribal land.

In mid-December 2018, Congress passed an 800-page farm bill that legalized the growing and selling of industrial hemp, and called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop rules on how hemp should be grown, inspected, tested and disposed of in cases where THC levels are too high. The bill also charged the USDA with reviewing and approving individual tribal hemp cultivation plans. 

“Our tribal government, about two months ago, passed a 49-page plan and submitted it to the USDA,” said White Plume. “But we haven’t gotten any response yet.”

That’s because the USDA hasn’t yet published the new regulations, said Patty Marks, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents the Oglala Lakota and hemp growers from other tribes.

The USDA promised to issue regulations in fall 2019 to accommodate the 2020 planting season.

“So right now, there are seven tribal plans sitting at the Department of Agriculture,” said Marks. “Agriculture, with some help from friends in the Department of Justice, have been slow-walking it.  And this is just my opinion — there are some folks at Justice who just don’t like cannabis.”

Until the final rule is implemented, tribes, like states, must follow the rules set out in the 2014 Farm Bill. In other words, growing hemp only for research, not commercial purposes.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, right, looks over a pack made of hemp with Rob Bondurant, left, and Mark Galbraith of Osprey Packs of Cortez, Colorado, in the company’s exhibit at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver, Colorado, June 19, 2019.

“So, Alex White Plume is in the limbo stage right now,” she said. “Alex is growing — and please put this in quotes — ‘against legal advice.’” 

Marks admits the USDA faces challenges, the greatest of which is coming up with a nationwide THC testing standard.  Currently, several tests have been developed, but they vary in reliability, and an inaccurate result could force the grower into destroying his entire crop.

This week, White Plume says his plants will have fully matured, and he’s planning to take a sample of his crop to a testing facility six hours away in Boulder, Colorado.  If his plants test within legal limits and the weather — of late unpredictable — holds, his harvest could yield 2,700 kilos of product.

With the price of hemp across the country at about $85 a pound, he and his family stand to gain — or lose — a lot.

Either way, White Plume said he’s turning over the hemp growing to his grandson next year.

“I’m just getting too old,” he laughed.

 

The Global Drug Trade: America’s Other War

Illegal drug use is on the rise around the world according to a new UN report. How bad is it and what is being done to stop the spread of dangerous and increasingly deadly drugs? Former US “Drug Czar” Gil Kerlikowske and Ben Westhoff, author of “Fentanyl Inc.” weigh in with Greta Van Susteren. Recorded September 4, 2019