Facebook and Instagram went down early Tuesday morning as a major snowstorm hit the Northeast. Reports on social media indicate that Tindr and Hipchat were also down.

Users worldwide were affected by the outage, The Associated Press reported, many of whom took to Twitter to express their outrage.

After about 40 minutes, Facebook service was restored.

A group of hackers appeared to claim responsibility via Twitter. Lizard Squad, which also claimed responsibility for Sunday’s hack of the Malaysian Airlines website, sent out the following tweet:

This is a developing story. This post will be updated as we receive more information.

NEW YORK (AP) — Tens of millions of people along the Philadelphia-to-Boston corridor rushed to get home and settle in Monday as a fearsome storm swirled in with the potential for hurricane-force winds and 1 to 3 feet of snow that could paralyze the Northeast for days.

In midtown Manhattan near Madison Square Garden just before midnight, the snow and wind had started to pick up, and light snow was falling in Boston. Forecasters said the storm would build into a blizzard, and the brunt of it would hit late Monday and into Tuesday.

As the snow got heavier, much of the region rushed to shut down.

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Snow and adverse weather conditions affect daily life in New York, United States on January 26, 2015. (Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

More than 7,700 flights in and out of the Northeast were canceled, and many of them may not take off again until Wednesday. Schools and businesses let out early. Government offices closed. Shoppers stocking up on food jammed supermarkets and elbowed one another for what was left. Broadway stages went dark.

“It’s going to be ridiculous out there, frightening,” said postal deliveryman Peter Hovey, standing on a snowy commuter train platform in White Plains, New York.

All too aware that big snowstorms can make or break politicians, governors and mayors moved quickly to declare emergencies and order the shutdown of streets and highways to prevent travelers from getting stranded and to enable plows and emergency vehicles to get through.

“This will most likely be one of the largest blizzards in the history of New York City,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned.

He urged New Yorkers to go home and stay there, adding: “People have to make smart decisions from this point on.”


(NOAA/National Weather Service)

Commuters like Sameer Navi. 27, of Long Island, were following the advice.

Navi, who works for Citigroup in Manhattan, said he takes the Long Island Rail Road every day and left work early Monday after warnings by local officials to get home before the brunt of the storm. “I did leave earlier than usual,” he said. “Penn Station less crowded than I thought it would be so I’m guessing people left earlier or didn’t go to work today.”

Up to now, this has been a largely snow-free winter in the urban Northeast. But this storm threatened to make up the difference in a single blow.

Boston was expected to get 2 to 3 feet of snow, New York 1½ to 2 feet and Philadelphia more than a foot.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for a 250-mile swath of the region, meaning heavy, blowing snow and potential whiteout conditions. Forecasters warned that the wind could gust to 75 mph or more along the Massachusetts coast and up 50 mph farther inland.

New York City’s subways and buses were suspended at 11 p.m. In Massachusetts, ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard was greatly curtailed and to Nantucket was suspended. Commuter railroads across the Northeast announced plans to stop running overnight, and most flights out of the region’s major airports were canceled.

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In this handout provided by NOAA from the GOES-East satellite, a major winter storm developing over the mid-Atlantic region and bringing snow to the Northeast of the U.S. is pictured at 16:45 UTC on January 26, 2015. (Photo by NOAA/NASA GOES Project via Getty Images)

Authorities banned travel on all streets and highways in New York City and on Long Island and warned that violators could be fined $300. Even food deliveries were off-limits on the streets of takeout-friendly Manhattan. The governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island also slapped restrictions on nonessential travel.

“We learned the lesson the hard way,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, referring to instances in which motorists got stranded in the snow for 24 hours or more.

In New Jersey, plows and salt spreaders remained at work on the roads Monday night in Ocean County, one of the areas that were expected to be among the hardest hit. There was a coating of snow on the roads but hardly any vehicles were traveling on them, as residents seemed content to stay indoors and monitor the storm in comfort.

Most businesses in the area had gone dark, including some convenience stores and gas stations.

Earlier in the day, Nicole Coelho, a nanny from Lyndhurst, New Jersey, stocked up on macaroni and cheese, frozen pizzas and milk at a supermarket.

“I’m going to make sure to charge up my cellphone, and I have a good book I haven’t gotten around to reading yet,” she said.

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Customers shop for supplies to prepare for the winter storm at a Home Depot Inc. store in Secaucus, New Jersey, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. (Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Shopping cart gridlock descended on Fairway, the gourmet grocery on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The meat shelves were all but bare, customers shoved past each other and outside on Broadway the checkout line stretched for a block as the wind and snow picked up. Store employees said it was busier than Christmastime.

Ben Shickel went grocery shopping in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and found shelves had been cleaned out.

“We’re used to these big snowstorms in New England, but 2 to 3 feet all at once and 50 to 60 mph winds? That’s a different story,” he said.

Last minute shoppers filed into the Jersey City ShopRite Monday evening, looking to stock up before the brunt of the storm hit. “I heard it’s supposed to be snowing for two days straight, so we plan on staying inside and munching,” said 18-year old Christian Waiters, who serves in the military.

On Wall Street, however, the New York Stock Exchange stayed open and said it would operate normally Tuesday as well.

Coastal residents braced for a powerful storm surge and the possibility of damaging flooding and beach erosion, particularly in New Jersey and on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Officials in New Jersey shore towns warned people to move their cars off the streets and away from the water.

Utility companies across the region put additional crews on standby to deal with anticipated power outages.

The storm posed one of the biggest tests yet for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been in office for less than three weeks. He warned residents to prepare for power outages and roads that are “very hard, if not impossible, to navigate.”

The storm interrupted jury selection in the Boston Marathon bombing case and forced a postponement in opening statements in the murder trial of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez in Fall River, Massachusetts.

The Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots got out of town just in time, leaving from Logan Airport around midday for Phoenix, where the temperature will reach the high 60s.

The Washington area was expecting only a couple of inches of snow. But the House postponed votes scheduled for Monday night because lawmakers were having difficulty flying back to the nation’s capital after the weekend.

___

Associated Press writers Dave Collins and Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Connecticut; David Porter in Lyndhurst, New Jersey; Jim Fitzgerald in White Plains; Bruce Shipkowski in Trenton, New Jersey; Deepti Hajela, Jonathan Lemire, Verena Dobnik and Mike Balsamo in New York; Albert Stumm in Philadelphia; and Marcy Gordon and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

HAVANA, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Monday appeared to lend his support to talks with the United States in his first comments about his longtime adversary since both countries agreed last month to restore diplomatic ties.

But Castro stopped short of an enthusiastic endorsement of the rapprochement, announced on Dec. 17 by his younger brother and Cuba’s current president, Raul Castro, and U.S. President Barack Obama.

“I don’t trust the policy of the United States nor have I had an exchange with them, but this does not mean … a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts or the dangers of war,” Fidel Castro, 88, said in a statement published on the website of Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma.

The United States and Cuba held historic high-level talks last week in Havana that are expected to lead to the re-establishment of diplomatic ties severed by Washington in 1961.

“Any peaceful or negotiated solution to the problems between the United States and the peoples or any people of Latin America that doesn’t imply force or the use of force should be treated in accordance with international norms and principles,” Fidel Castro said.

“We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the peoples of the world, among them our political adversaries.”

He took power in a 1959 revolution and spent much of his 49 years in power railing against the United States, which never succeeded in many attempts to oust him.

He was finally forced into retirement in 2008 by poor health and was succeeded by his brother Raul, who is now 83.

“The president of Cuba has taken the pertinent steps in accordance with his prerogatives and the powers given to him by the National Assembly the Communist Party of Cuba,” Fidel Castro said of his brother in the statement.

His silence on the issue had led to speculation over his health and whether he supported his brother’s rapprochement with the United States.

On Jan. 12, he sent a letter to friend and retired Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona that squelched rumors he had died. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Kieran Murray)

2015-01-26-washingtonstateseal.JPGWhen I first visited Washington state more than a decade ago as journalist covering Microsoft, Amazon, and other companies, I remember being impressed with the state’s idyllic blend of economic growth and environmental splendor.

Drive east from Microsoft’s massive headquarters in Redmond and it’s not long before you’re deep in evergreen forests. Head west from Amazon’s current home in South Lake Union and you’re soon on the shores of one of the most complex and beautiful estuaries in the world, Puget Sound, and then on to the great Pacific.

It only makes sense that Gov. Jay Inslee and other lawmakers want to preserve the specialness of Washington’s economy and its environment by reducing carbon pollution, increasing clean energy and taking other real steps to address climate change.

2015-01-26-AboutJay.jpgGov. Inslee’s groundbreaking Carbon Pollution Accountability Act, and accompanying legislation recently introduced in the Washington state legislature, are great and overdue steps in the right direction.

“The longer we wait to address global climate change, the more expensive it becomes,” state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon said in introducing the Inslee legislation in the State House. “If we do not take immediate action to reduce the carbon emitted into our atmosphere, we are continuing to put our economy, the health of our kids and families and our environment at risk.”

What’s happening in Washington state is unfortunately a sharp contrast to what’s happening in Washington D.C.

While Washington state lawmakers’ bold pragmatism promises to help their environment and their economy, the new Congress in Washington, D.C., seems hell-bent on pushing legislation that will strip away our environmental protections, continue to ignore the threats of climate change and keep us addicted to dirty fossil fuels.

Some in Congress are trying to pretend that they’re doing this for the good of the economy.

Hogwash.

You can’t pretend that 35 or so full-time jobs the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will produce are somehow more important than the nearly 250,000 clean energy and clean transportation jobs created over the past several years, according to the jobs reports produced by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) at cleanenergyworksforus.org.

You can’t pretend that continuing to ignore climate change and the tens of billions of dollars in damage from weather disasters, health impacts and other consequences that come with it, as detailed in the groundbreaking report Risky Business, is somehow good for our economy.

And you can’t pretend that environmental protection and economic growth can’t go hand in hand.

Facts and history prove differently.

Between the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and 2011, our country cut pollution by 68 percent, while our gross domestic product grew by 212 percent. Private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during that time. 2015-01-26-capitoldome.JPG

Yes, clean air and clean water standards do come with costs, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards enacted between 1999 and 2009 cost as much as $29 billion, but they also generated as much as $533 billion in economic benefits.

That’s a pretty good investment, I’d say.

Washington state’s Carbon Pollution Accountability Act is another good investment.

By charging the state’s 130 biggest polluters for the first time for their emissions, the program will generate an estimated $1 billion annually in state revenues that will be invested in cleaner transportation and other areas. That in turn will drive innovation in cleaner cars, cleaner fuels and efficiency — and that in turn will create and attract new jobs to the state.

In Washington, D.C., members of Congress have the choice to invest wisely in our environment and our economy too.

They can support the federal Clean Power Plan, which will cut emissions from existing power plants by 30 percent while increasing clean energy and energy efficiency. According to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates, the Clean Power Plan will deliver economic benefits of as much as $93 billion a year by 2030, or as much as 10 times the potential costs of the plan. It will create as many as 274,000 jobs in energy efficiency alone, not to mention thousands more in clean energy sectors. My organization, E2, is an affiliate of NRDC.

Congress can also take other actions that will help our economy and our environment, like passing a national renewable energy standard, the production tax credit for the wind industry, and commonsense energy efficiency programs like the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act, commonly known as Shaheen-Portman.

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., don’t have to continue to ignore the economic costs of climate change and eschew the economic benefits of clean energy.

They can look to the west and to Washington state for examples of real leadership — leadership that’s good for both the economy and the environment.

Photos: Gov. Jay Inslee, courtesy of the governor’s office; U.S. Capitol (currently under restoration), courtesy Architect of the Capitol; Washington state seal, courtesy of the Washington secretary of state.

In September 2000, 189 U.N. member states and more than 25 international organizations of public and private scope, committed themselves to the complex cause of extreme poverty reduction on a global scale. It was informally spoken of as the largest collective impact agreement at the time, marking history.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were the articulation of their commitment. It quantified targets for eight dimensions of addressing the poorest quintile of the world’s human population — the segments of society earning and subsisting on less than $1 a day — the generally recognized international poverty line.

Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education

Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality

Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

As with all multi-faceted socio-economic-environmental issues, the goals were interconnected and interdependent on succeeding in tandem. One could not reach gender parity without achieving universal primary education. And one could not reduce child mortality without improving maternal health. And onward and upward.

The goals also made visible the critical role girls and women have to play in their communities and countries. It was a recognition that although females comprised more than 50 percent of the human population worldwide, they were severely underrepresented in the educational system as well as among decision-making leadership positions across public and private sectors.

As a direct result of the MDGs, gender equalization in remote regions of second and third world nations have experienced constructive developments over the last 15 years, albeit uneven progress based on target indicators such as the gender parity index, which correlates girls’ to boys’ school enrolment ratios. For instance, Goal Two’s target of gender equality at primary school level was attained, however, cultural and systemic obstacles to accessing secondary and tertiary educational levels remained essentially unmoved. Political participation in electoral structures has seen inroads. However, women’s relegation to the informal economy versus participation in the formal economy continues to persist.

Overall, an uptick here, a downtick there and a leveling off elsewhere has raised questions of the effectiveness of the MDGs. Although critical evaluation is necessary and valid, the broader perspective is not should we continue, but how do we continue. Change writ large is a massive undertaking. Purposefully shifting economic evolution is akin to forging new cycles of creative destruction, a concept popularized by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter and overused during the tech industry run-up of the 1990s.

Perhaps the MDGs are the “perennial gale of creative destruction,” acting as catalysts that “incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

As we embark on 2015 with a long view towards the end date of the MDGs on December 31st, we have an opportunity to direct, shape and influence the next iteration, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And many have done so; more than a thousand recommendations from academics, non-governmental organizations and think-tank pundits have already been received. Multiple UN agencies and external groups, such as the Copenhagen Consensus, are currently collecting and collating data to determine the goals and targets for 2015 to 2030, and ultimately earmarking the $2.5 trillion in committed development aid.

Within the feedback framework, the UN is engaging individuals beyond insiders and stakeholders. My World is the first UN global survey open to all people and calls upon their input to help order the priorities of the SDGs. If there is ever a stateless plebiscite to partake in, it is one that induces the question: what kind of world do you want? And it is one that offers an opportunity to place your opinion in a voting vehicle that will deliver real-world impact in your own lifetime. In this micro-act, one can set in motion a force that will have macro-outcomes, perhaps driving the next perennial gale of creative destruction, destroying the old and creating the new.

NEW YORK (AP) — While Joan Rivers lay sedated in a Manhattan clinic, her doctors performed unauthorized medical procedures, snapped a selfie with the comedian and failed to act as her vital signs deteriorated, according to a malpractice lawsuit filed Monday by her daughter, Melissa.

The 81-year-old comedian and star of “Fashion Police” on E! died Sept. 4, days after she went in for a routine endoscopy at Yorkville Endoscopy on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and stopped breathing.

The lawsuit filed in Manhattan State Supreme Court paints a picture of a careless, cocky staff of doctors who ran roughshod over Rivers while she was unconscious, and it suggests that she died because of their incompetence. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Melissa Rivers said in a statement that filing the lawsuit was one of the most difficult decisions she had to make.

“What ultimately guided me was my unwavering belief that no family should ever have to go through what my mother, Cooper and I have been through,” she said, referring to her son. “The level of medical mismanagement, incompetency, disrespect and outrageous behavior is shocking and frankly, almost incomprehensible.”

She said her mother deserved better.

The city’s medical examiner found that Joan Rivers died of brain damage due to lack of oxygen after she stopped breathing during the endoscopy. Her death was classified as a therapeutic complication. The classification is not commonly used; more deaths are certified as accidents, homicides, suicides or natural causes. Negligence was not suspected. Had it been, it would have been listed as a contributing cause.

A statement from Yorkville said it wasn’t appropriate to comment on the lawsuit.

“The Rivers family has, as it has always had, our deepest sympathies and condolences,” the statement said. “The 51 physicians, nurses and staff who currently work at Yorkville remain firmly committed to providing the highest quality of care to their patients.”

The lawsuit alleges that the doctors mishandled the endoscopy and performed another medical procedure called a laryngoscopy on Rivers’ vocal cords without consent. When the anesthesiologist expressed concern over what the procedure would do to Rivers’ ability to breathe, she was told she was being “paranoid” by the gastroenterologist performing the endoscopy, Dr. Lawrence Cohen, the suit said. He has since resigned.

Rivers’ private ear, nose and throat specialist, Gwen Korovin, was introduced as an observer in the operating room but instead performed two procedures though she wasn’t cleared to work at the clinic, the lawsuit said. Rivers crashed during the second — after Cohen snapped pictures of Rivers, and with Korovin, saying later he thought Rivers would want to see them, the suit said. Korovin then left the operating room to avoid being caught, according to the suit.

A message left with Korovin’s attorney wasn’t returned. Calls to her office and Cohen’s office and home rang unanswered.

“To put it mildly, we are not just disappointed by the acts and omissions leading to the death of Joan Rivers, but we are outraged by the lack of care and concern for Ms. Rivers on the part of her treating physicians and the endoscopy center where the treatment was rendered,” said Melissa Rivers’ attorneys, Jeffrey Bloom and Ben Rubinowitz.

An investigation ordered by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found the clinic made several errors, including failing to keep proper medication records and snapping the cellphone photos. It also found the clinic failed to get informed consent for every procedure performed and failed to record Rivers’ weight before the administration of sedation medication.

The clinic submitted a lengthy plan for fixes, but the changes weren’t good enough and the federal agency said it would revoke accreditation unless the clinic was in better compliance by March 2. Yorkville said it was working with the agency.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Marijuana just keeps growing. That’s a weak attempt at a punny metaphor for which I apologize (hey, I could have used some variation such as “growing like a weed,” so I did exercise a little restraint…), but its deeper meaning is that marijuana is actually outgrowing such cheap jokes and entering the realm where it demands to be taken seriously — especially by politicians. Marijuana is now the nation’s fastest-growing industry. The legal marijuana industry brought in $2.4 billion last year, so it’s certainly no longer any sort of laughing matter. That figure represents an increase of a whopping 74 percent in one year’s time, and it is estimated that the total legal market could be worth $11 billion as soon as 2019.

This news is all contained in the third annual “State of Legal Marijuana Markets” report from The ArcView Group, described as “a cannabis industry investment and research firm based in Oakland, California.” The Huffington Post has a good overview of what the report contains, complete with some very interesting charts projecting the size of the possible future legal marketplace. These projections seem just a wee bit optimistic to me, assuming (for instance) that the following states will legalize adult recreational use either this year or in 2016: California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maryland. By 2020, the projection adds Montana, Hawai’i, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware to this list. This would make a total of 18 states to fully legalize, which (as I said) may be slightly optimistic.

Optimistic or not, though, it’s hard to argue against at least some of those states ending their own War On Weed within this time period. Whether it happens that fast or takes a slightly different route, though, the destination should be more and more obvious as the legal marijuana industry continues to grow. The end of this road is pretty stunning, just in sheer numbers:

The huge growth potential of the industry appears to be limited only by the possibility of states rejecting the loosening of their drug laws. The report projects a marijuana industry that could be more valuable than the entire organic food industry — that is, if the legalization trend continues to the point that all 50 states legalize recreational marijuana. The total market value of all states legalizing marijuana would top $36.8 billion — more than $3 billion larger than the organic food industry.

So far, this reform effort has taken place at the grassroots level (there I go again with the puns… sorry). All five places where recreational legalization is now on the books (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington DC) happened via ballot initiatives. Most of the states now considering the idea are also going to happen by the direct expressed will of the voters, although either Vermont or Rhode Island could become the first states to do so through their state legislatures. This marks a turning point, because it means politicians will be less and less able to either flat-out ignore the issue or treat it as some sort of joking matter.

There is already an established marijuana lobby in DC. This is also a sign of growing up: entering the political process by means of campaign donations. Even when the people are leading on a hot-button issue, politicians think they’re free to dodge the issue until it starts hitting them directly in the campaign chest. Look at the Democrats’ evolution on gay marriage, for instance, and how much more seriously Democratic candidates started to treat the issue once the big gay-rights donors started threatening to turn off the money spigot. You can bemoan the influence of money in American politics all you want from a purist position, but the reality is that any issue with a big lobbying effort is taken a lot more seriously than one with no money behind it. It’s a political fact of life, whether you despise that this is so or not. And the marijuana industry is starting to play this game. It will only become more and more effective at doing so as the industry grows, both in size and in stature.

State-level gains on marijuana reform are one thing, but the real battles which remain are going to have to be fought at the federal level. The first skirmish is already happening, because although the voters in Washington DC voted overwhelmingly to legalize recreational marijuana, Congress may think it can get away with vetoing the will of the voters. It will be interesting to see how many Democrats stand up for District residents on the issue.

Most Democratic politicians at the national level might be charitably described as “reluctant” to support drastically reforming federal marijuana laws. But such reforms are going to be absolutely necessary, and the pressure for them to happen is only going to grow. Democrats old enough to remember the “Nancy Reagan era” of the Drug War know that Republicans will in all likelihood level two charges against any Democrats brave enough to call for changes: being “soft on drugs” and “soft on crime.” Anyone who thinks these aren’t effective political bludgeons probably didn’t live through the 1980s.

But if the number of states which have legalized recreational use reaches double digits (as it could very well do in 2016), the pressure is going to mount for national politicians to show some leadership. The people will be leading, and the leaders will have to eventually follow, to put this in bumper-sticker language.

The remaining hurdle for the marijuana industry might be called “normalization.” Legal recreational marijuana is now (or soon will be) a reality in four states. What is necessary now is the equivalent of the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment. When federal Prohibition of alcohol was overturned, what happened was exactly what is already taking place now for marijuana — alcohol laws were changed state by state (even county by county in many places), and we were left with a patchwork of laws across the nation. It took until 1966 before the last statewide alcohol prohibition law was repealed, in fact (in Mississippi).

But while there are indeed still “dry” counties in America, there is an important distinction between current laws on alcohol sales and current marijuana laws. An American citizen can travel anywhere in the country with a couple of cases of beer in the backseat of his or her car and not risk being arrested for possessing alcohol. As long as it’s for personal use, as long as the driver hasn’t recently consumed any of it, and as long as nobody’s trying to sell it illegally, there is no danger of being locked up or the citizen’s vehicle being impounded. Liquor store owners, as long as they’re legal with the state and county, are allowed to have a business checking account in their local bank. They are also allowed to deduct their business expenses from their taxes. Beer advertisements are allowed to be broadcast even in “dry” counties. While local laws may ban alcohol sales, alcohol possession is not a crime. People growing barley, hops, wheat, potatoes, or any other plant which is made into alcoholic beverages don’t have to comply with any onerous regulations controlling how many plants they may grow, which allows the free marketplace to work as intended. None of that is true for marijuana.

The biggest political step that still needs to be taken on the national level is completely divorcing marijuana from the rest of the ill-fated Drug War. Politicians can indeed manage to do this by taking the stance: “Let’s spend our drug enforcement dollars intelligently and go after crystal meth and heroin abuse instead of wasting it on marijuana.” That is both an effective and a fiscally-responsible argument.

At some point, most likely led by Democrats (although libertarian Republicans could indeed surprise me), it is going to become more of a political liability to fight against marijuana’s mainstreaming than it will be a positive political position to take. This could happen rather quickly, in fact (consider that in the past six years, the Democrats went from timidity to full-throated support for marriage equality, led by Barack Obama’s own “evolution” on the matter). Especially if six or seven states vote to legalize recreational use during a presidential election year.

Beyond politics, however, the normalization of marijuana use continues in American society, and sometimes from unexpected directions. While marijuana activists were amused that last year’s Super Bowl was played between the two teams from fully-legal recreational states (the Broncos and the Seahawks), this year it is even more impressive that ex-stars of the N.F.L. are now publicly calling for the league to change their own rather Draconian attitudes towards marijuana use by their players.

Marijuana users will eventually be as free as beer drinkers in America. That is the end game for marijuana reform. Marijuana may not be sold everywhere in the country, but then neither is alcohol (even eight decades after the repeal of Prohibition). But other than moonshiners, nobody today worries about being arrested for breaking alcohol possession laws. Instead it is treated as a recreational vice with limits on responsible use (drunken driving and public intoxication laws still remain on the books, to put this another way). In a nod to the N.F.L. players’ column, I can end here by defining the ultimate measure of when marijuana will be fully normalized in American society: when an advertisement for weed airs during the Super Bowl. Today, the possibility of seeing a Super Bowl ad for Bob Marley brand joints seems pretty far-fetched, during the most-watched television event of the year (with the most-expensive advertising rates). But the marijuana industry is growing so fast that such a thing may become reality a lot sooner than anyone might now predict. The marijuana industry is indeed growing up, and eventually it’s going to want a seat at the biggest advertising table the country has to offer.

Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

Ever since I first began composing music, I’ve always felt that building new audiences requires updating the very idea of “the composer” — from some stuffy old dude with a wig and a quill pen, to a collaborator and cultural ambassador who is deeply integrated with the communities he or she serves.

One of the most exciting things about my position as Director of Artistic Programming with Chicago-based music organization Fifth House Ensemble is that I’m able to pursue larger and more complex musical projects than I ever could all on my own. While I’ve partnered before with music ensembles including the Kronos Quartet and Minnesota Orchestra in presenting ambitious programming and community outreach initiatives, being a core member of my own ensemble “family” has afforded me the opportunity to join together with like-minded individuals who are passionate about taking the concert experience to the next level, and to re-imagine what classical programming might be able to provide for 21st-century audiences.

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Reaching new audiences requires reaching outside of oneself, and beyond the conventional way of doing things. So at Fifth House Ensemble, we’re always looking to collaborate with people who bring their own, unique talents to the table. Sometimes that can be a visual artist or animator who can help make the music come alive for our audiences, and sometimes it means working with other musicians who share very different skills and performance experience.

It’s exactly this kind of conversation — where musicians from different sides of the tracks both explore their commonalities and celebrate their differences — that I feel is most valuable to the ensemble as well as our audiences. “What happens if ___?” is my favorite reason for a musical performance, reimagined as playful experimentation rather than the sterile museum-like curation to which classical concerts are so often prone. One of the many reasons audiences flock to bands and rather than classical offerings must surely be the lack of risk in most classical concerts, and lack of any stake in the outcome; and that’s why my major criticism of most classical programs is that no room has been left for something truly unexpected to happen. I want to instead reach out to the audience with this invitation: “We’re going to try something today that’s never been done before, but that might be really cool — would you help us by joining as part of that conversation?”

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Just last week I traveled to Berlin with five of our musicians to initiate just this kind of conversation: a collaboration between Fifth House Ensemble and Mediterranean folk band Baladino in which we’re working to create and present a genre-defying suite of newly composed concert works rooted in Middle Eastern, European, and American vernacular music. With its members hailing from Berlin and Tel Aviv, Baladino brings together instruments and traditions from the wide span of cultures including Sephardic and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) musical traditions, updating these influences with their own contemporary backgrounds in jazz improvisation and electronica.

Through engagement with diverse cultural organizations representing the US, Israel, Spain, Iran, India, and Germany, and by tapping the shared experience of musical memories, this genre-bending program serves as a catalyst for an exploration of music as an indelible part of cultural identity — with the earliest musical memories that our cultural partners and future audience members share with us providing a thematic undercurrent to the show.

We want the audience’s experience of seeing our two ensembles share in each other’s respective musical traditions enrich the process of reconnecting with their own musical memories. By sharing cherished melodies that become part of new resulting musical work, our participants witness defining parts of their identity reflected in a new work that is actually much larger than a single concert; it’s a process of repeated engagement that build awareness for the project while also sparking conversation between individuals and groups who might not otherwise engage so readily. We’re not quite sure where this conversation is headed, but after an initial rehearsal period and salon concert presentation in Berlin it was clear that letting the audience in the on the creative process was a big part of how music organizations can revitalize relationships with their communities.

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While a defining aspect of my work with Fifth House Ensemble includes cross-genre collaborations and civic practice initiatives, I also think that one of the best ways to let curiosity back into the concert hall is to reimagine past masterpieces in a way that is both faithful to their origins and yet reimagines their meaning in a way that impacts a new generation. This younger generation is increasingly likely to discover music for classical instruments as the soundtrack to films and video games, and our upcoming presentation of Arnold Schoenberg’s epicly-angsty composition Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) at Chicago’s Mayne Stage taps the talents of film and video Chicago film and video artist Adebukola Bodunrin immerses audiences in a captivating interpretation of poet Richard Dehmel’s original text which inspired the composition.

There’s a way to stay true to the integrity of past masterworks and explore their contexts in a serious way, while also bringing in new audiences who might not otherwise have an experience with classical chamber music and presenting that experience to them on the highest artistic level–making art accessible in the age of videogames and YouTube requires using every tool at our disposal to redesign the concert experience.

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When I look at the programming of most major music organizations including major orchestras, I’m struck by how many of their programs leave little reason for even a committed music fan to attend save for the still-significant thrill of seeing a live musician take the risk of playing even a familiar work without a safety net, as it were; what if we realized that it’s this risk that makes live performance so exciting and special, and that what classical music most needs are more ways to make the concert experience special again–and to give us an experience we can’t easily recreate with listening devices and earbuds.

The best part of art is that we don’t have to know what will happen beforehand–and that very not knowing is the point. I’ve got into music because it became a way of expressing my curiosity: about sound and how it can affect listeners, about myself and my own limits, and about the many concepts and experiences I encounter in the wide world beyond music. Art has a way of taking us outside of ourselves to new and wonderful places, and I’m grateful that my work with Fifth House Ensemble allows me to advocate for a vision of classical music where experimentation and accessibility each support the other. By letting curiosity back into the concert hall–and with it the associated vulnerability, freedom, and sense of shared community–we’re making a commitment to a new paradigm in which classical musicians listen just as much as they sound.

Some forecasters have projected a record snowstorm for the Northeast in the coming hours, which isn’t exactly the sort of thing that makes people think about global warming.

But in declaring a state of emergency on Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) noted that this type of monster storm is “part of the changing climate.”

“I’ve only been governor four years. I believe I’ve gone through more emergency disasters in four years than any governor in history has gone through,” said Cuomo. “There is a pattern of extreme weather that we have never seen before.”

Cuomo cited Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which hit New York and New Jersey particularly hard, as well as the 7 feet of snow that fell on Buffalo this past November. “It’s something we have to adjust to, it’s something that’s very costly, and it’s also something that’s very dangerous,” said the governor.

Climate change deniers are gonna deny, but there is increasing evidence that ties atmospheric warming trends to heavier snowfall events.

“We can’t make too big a deal of every single storm and say it is caused by climate change,” climate scientist Don Wuebbles of the University of Illinois in Urbana told National Geographic on Monday. “But what we are seeing today is completely typical of what you would expect to see in a warming climate.”

Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist in the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said that in winter, temperatures are generally colder on land than over the oceans. Climate change is raising ocean temperatures, however, and current sea surface temperatures are more the 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal over much of the area off the East Coast of the United States, he explained to The Huffington Post. Trenberth also said that water vapor in the atmosphere is about 10 percent higher than normal, and about half of this change can be attributed to climate change.

Massive storms, like the one hitting the Northeast, happen when the cold land air collides with the warmer, moister off-shore air. The current storm, said Trenberth, “is in just the right position to tap into the high moisture over the ocean and develop as it experiences the sharp contrast between the continent and the relatively warm ocean.”

That fits with trends identified in last year’s National Climate Assessment from the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The report found that from 1958 to 2012, there was a 71 percent increase in “very heavy” storms in the Northeast.

The heavy storm trend is likely to continue, given the projected atmospheric warming. “In mid-winter, it is expected with climate change that snowfalls will increase as long as the temperatures are cold enough, because they are warmer than they would have been and the atmosphere can hold 4 percent more moisture for every 1 [degree Fahrenheit] increase in temperature,” said Trenberth. “So as long as it does not warm above freezing, the result is a greater dump of snow.”

Other studies have found evidence that global warming is driving shifts in the jet stream. Those changes may slow storms down, giving them more time to drop rain or snow in one place.

“A storm that might have moved across the Northeast in 24 hours may now take 48 hours,” David Easterling, chief of the Global Climate Applications Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, told The Huffington Post.

Indeed, the current storm, named Juno, appears to be slow-moving. “It has a chance to dump a lot of snow as it moves across the region,” said Easterling.

As the climate warms, he said, “you may see more of these bigger storms in the future.”

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A confounding and heartbreaking murder case alleging that a mother purposely poisoned her 5-year-old son with salt and documented his decline on social media began Monday in the New York suburbs.

Lacey Spears, 27, of Scottsville, Kentucky, who presented herself online as a supremely devoted mother, is charged with depraved murder and manslaughter in the death a year ago of Garnett-Paul Spears.

“This mother was intentionally feeding her child salt at toxic levels,” prosecutor Doreen Lloyd said at Spears’ arraignment.

The boy’s sodium levels rose to a dangerous point with no medical explanation, prosecutors said, leading to a swollen brain, seizures and death. They believe his single mother, who was sharing his hospital room at Westchester Medical Center, administered salt through a feeding tube into Garnett’s stomach.

All the while, she was keeping followers up to date with 28 online postings in the last 11 days of his life, noting his death with, “Garnett the great journeyed onward today at 10:20 a.m.” She had tens of thousands of entries over Garnett’s lifetime, many about his doctor and hospital visits.

“My Sweet Angel Is In The Hospital For The 23rd Time,” Spears tweeted on Nov. 9, 2009, adding a sad-faced emoticon. “Please Pray He Gets To Come Home Soon.”

Jury selection began Monday with a pool of 90 potential jurors on hand at the courthouse. Several told the judge they had seen some of the extensive news coverage of the case.

In rulings delivered last week, Lacey Spears’ messages on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace were determined relevant and are likely to be introduced as evidence. Some of the posted photos depict Garnett’s declining health, said acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary.

Neary also found that prosecutors can tell jurors about Internet research Spears did on her iPhone into the dangers of sodium in children and the properties of iodized salt.

In addition, the judge said Garnett’s hospital records from Alabama, Florida and New York are relevant and “inextricably interwoven into the fabric of this case. They provide a history of the child’s medical issues and treatment leading up to his death. They illustrate the defendant’s role as custodian and care giver.”

Prosecutors believe Spears often lied to doctors about Garnett’s health, for example claiming he had celiac disease when he didn’t.

Spears’ lawyers have not publicly detailed a defense strategy and did not return calls seeking comment. Attorney Stephen Riebling said in July that the defense would focus “on the relevant facts, not fiction.”

Spears, originally from Decatur, Alabama, was living in Chestnut Ridge, New York, at the time of Garnett’s death. She moved to Kentucky before her arrest in June and has been jailed since then. A man who says he is Garnett’s father lives in Alabama.

Other evidence in the case includes bags used to feed Garnett which prosecutors say have “extraordinary” concentrations of sodium. The prosecution says Spears tried to cover up by asking a friend to take a feeding bag, “get rid of it and don’t tell anybody.”

The trial apparently will not include any reference to Munchausen by proxy, a disorder in which caretakers purposely but secretly harm children and then enjoy the attention and sympathy they receive. Some experts regard it as a mental illness and a defense to such crimes, while others consider it a motive. Several believe Spears’ case fits the syndrome.

Spears’ lawyers asked the judge to prohibit any mention of Munchausen and prosecutors said they had no plans to bring it up.

The murder charge alleges Garnett was killed “under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life” rather than with intent. It carries the same maximum sentence as intentional murder, however – 25 years to life. The manslaughter count alleges Spears killed her son “while intending to cause serious physical injury.”

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