Archive for July 23rd, 2009

Youth Radio — Youth Media International: Oakland Approves Marijuana Tax

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Originally published on, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.

By: Orlando Campbell

Yesterday, Oakland, California voted on four local measures designed to bring more money into the struggling city by the bay. All passed, and the much talked about Measure F, designed to drastically increase the local tax on medicinal marijuana, won by a landslide.

Measure F’s overwhelming success is seen as a major victory for local cannabis clubs who actually went to the city requesting that they be taxed more. It may seem weird for any business, or human being for that matter, to actually want to be taxed more, but for cannabis clubs, it’s about building a positive relationship with the city, and moving towards a day when marijuana will become completely legal. In short, the city further legitimizes the local medical marijuana industry. How can the government, police, or any other official hate on weed, when weed is paying the bills?

Oakland is the first city to levee a task specifically aimed at the sale of marijuana, and it’s also the only place in the country with a cannabis college. Founded in 2007, Oaksterdam University (O.U.) educates students in the business and botany of legal marijuana. Their storefront would probably go unnoticed to a passerby; that is until they read the big white letters reading Oaksterdam University. O.U. shares the block with a barber college, a music store, and a bank, and the youth organization where I work.

Oaksterdam University and the surrounding cannabis clubs are also right around the corner from Oakland city hall, and have, in the past, stirred a pinch of controversy into the city’s soup. Apart from the weed based businesses, downtown Oakland is also home to restaurants, office buildings, schools, and dedicated youth programs such as the one where I work. Of course one can argue that drugs and youth do not belong in the same sentence, which is true, but they would be leaving out most of the deeper rooted facts.

In general, the youth I know wouldn’t even consider going to a cannabis club to get their fix. If they want some weed, they will find someone at their school or in their neighborhood to sell it to them. Not far removed from youth myself, I know that it is easier for a teen to get weed on the streets than it is alcohol. This is for the simple fact that alcohol is sold legally, but with restrictions, similar to the way medicinal marijuana is sold throughout California. If weed was treated in the same way as alcohol, and not just sold on the street, its accessibility to young people would decrease, not increase.

Medical marijuana is legal in this state, just like any other medicine; a buyer must be over 18 to even enter a club, and they need a prescription to even purchase it. And even though those are the current regulations, I believe sooner or later marijuana will be treated similarly to alcohol, and considered completely legal in California. Measure F encouraged voters to consider and accept this unavoidable reality and make the most of it. I for one hope that the profits of marijuana sales will help fund Oakland’s
schools and youth programs.

Oakland is hungry right now, and an estimated $294,000 of annual revenue from the weed tax will help feed its growling belly.

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit </em

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Obama Has Met At Least 27 Times With Private Health Care Industry Executives

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

President Barack Obama has hosted at least 27 meetings with some of the most influential private health-industry executives in the country in an effort to placate or at least quiet potential opponents of reform in what remains a tenuous legislative process.

Under pressure from a good-government organization, the White House released on Wednesday evening the names of industry officials whom the president has met and the dates of their meetings. The records show that, from early February to late June, the White House has invited 15 of the health care and pharmaceutical industry’s most powerful players.

The president’s meetings were handed over to the good government group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which had filed a lawsuit seeking the information. But the disclosure came roughly 50 minutes before the president hosted a prime-time news conference on the topic of health care reform. And the White House communications team reached out to the press corps about their plans for releasing the records several hours before they ever touched base with CREW, an official with the group confirmed. In short, the timing and process seemed geared towards diminishing the story’s coverage.

Nevertheless, the names and dates provide a window into how wide a net the president has cast in his efforts to bring all parties to the table and craft health care reform. Many meetings involved a group of industry executives coming to the White House together.

  • PhRMA President and CEO Billy Tauzin visited the White House on March 5, May 19, June 2, and June 24.
  • Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of America’s Health Insurance Plans, visited the White House on March 5, 6, and 11 and June 30.
  • Richard Umbdenstock, the president and chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association, visited the White House on February 4, February 23; March 5, March 25, March 30; April 6, and May 22.
  • Dr. James Rohack, who is president of the American Medical Association visited the White House on March 25, June 22, and June 24. The latter two visits came less than two weeks after the AMA said it would oppose a public plan for insurance coverage. The group has since retracted its position.

The back story behind the Wednesday afternoon records release may be as fascinating as the records themselves, providing a small window into how the White House handles an unfavorable story on a sensitive subject.

On Wednesday morning, the Los Angeles Times published a story revealing that the Obama White House was refusing to release records of meetings it had allegedly held with 18 private health care industry executives (the number ended up being 15). Later in the day, CREW filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security seeking to obtain those records.

The story was politically damaging. As pointed out by Josh Orton at the site MyDD, Obama’s campaign website still lists his pledge to do away with excessive government secrecy. And in an interview with the Huffington Post, CREW’s chief counsel, Anne Weismann, declared that Obama’s refusal to release the names of health care executives mirrored the much-maligned, closed door energy policy task force led by former vice president Dick Cheney.

“People wanted to know who Cheney had met with in formulating the Bush administration’s energy policy and we want to know who the Obama administration met with in formulating their energy and now their health care policy,” said Weismann. “It is all the more critical considering the debate going on right now and the push to get health care done quickly. I don’t know if you can actually distinguish the two [Cheney's energy task force and Obama's health care meetings].”

Taken alone, the remarks were a sharp blow to a president who, throughout the campaign, used Cheney’s secret task force meetings to denounce cryptic, special-interest-driven policy making of the Bush years. More broadly, however, they reflected what is an emerging frustration among government watchdogs about the failures of the Obama White House to achieve the transparent governance that the president promised on the campaign trail. This past week the special inspector general for the TARP testified that the Treasury Department had refused to adopt even the most rudimentary reforms to help track the spending of taxpayer funds.

Through it all, the White House insisted that it was operating within the letter of the law. The records, aides said, were exempt from public disclosure laws because they regard presidential communications. Moreover, they hinted that the administration was still in the process of setting disclosure policy and could end up reversing course in its decision to keep the records private.

In the end, the reverse was not a full one. While the White House did release the visitor logs, there was no promise that a new policy of disclosure had been implemented. In a letter to Weismann, the president’s chief counsel, Greg Craig wrote:

…[T]he legal status of White House visitor records is the subject of ongoing litigation and that the White House is reviewing its policy governing the discretionary release of such records.”

“There is no more important issue than health care reform, and the President is fully committed to helping Americans live healthier lives, preventing illness, and increasing the competitiveness of our country. Given the compelling public interest in the health care debate and the President’s goal of increasing transparency in government, we have reviewed the White House visitors records related to the eighteen individuals listed in your request through June 30, 2009. The President has decided to exercise his discretion and release the following information, which is reflected in the relevant visitor records.

Here is the letter to Weismann from Craig:


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Major League Baseball Makes Comedy Central Remove Footage Of Obama’s Pitch In Jon Stewart Clip

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Remember last week, when President Barack Obama threw out the first pitch at baseball’s All Star game? And remember the ensuing fuss about his form? And remember how Jon Stewart sliced through all of the crap with his typically incisive wit?

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Bruce Nilles: The Climate Bill Shouldn’t Give Coal a Free Pass

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Now that historic U.S. climate legislation – the American Clean Energy and Security Act – (ACES), has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate is debating its version of energy/climate legislation, let’s talk about what must be fixed before it gets to the President’s desk.

Big Coal has long sought and enjoyed loopholes for their dirty industry – anything to keep the money rolling in as they avoid cleaning up. And now, over objections of our clean energy champions, this bill gives them another massive loophole that the Senate must correct.

Although coal-fired power plants account for roughly a third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions (making them our single largest source of global warming pollution), the legislation gives them a free pass to continue business as usual — without making any serious reductions in heat-trapping CO2 for at least fifteen years, and bringing us increasingly closer to a climate crisis.  

There is some modestly good news for new plants that don’t yet have their construction permit: no later than 2025, they will have to cut their carbon emissions in half.  But the bad news is that the bill exempts a slug of plants permitted but not yet built, plus the huge fleet of America’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants, from any requirement to clean up and cut their CO2 emissions.

This is a disaster in the making, because it threatens to block the way for the U.S. to transition rapidly to a clean energy economy. These old dirty coal plants need to clean up or be retired. But the way the bill works right now, instead of encouraging investment in new industries and new plants that are subject to stringent standards, it leaves the door open to expand the old plants with no added safeguards.

By “grandfathering” existing coal-fired capacity, which accounts for 44 percent of U.S. electricity generation, the bill repeats the mistakes of the 1977 Clean Air Act — mistakes that we have been paying for in the form deadly air pollution ever since. 

Three decades ago, Congress exempted older plants from soot and smog limits that applied to new units, on the assumption (and promise by the industry) that they would soon be retired. Instead, the industry took full advantage of this loophole to refurbish old plants and, in some cases, to expand their capacity and emit even more of the air pollution that causes tens of thousands of asthma attacks, hospitalizations, heart attacks, and premature deaths every year. We can’t repeat that mistake.

While ACES does make some good strides in reducing global warming pollution, Big Coal cannot be allowed to vent billions of tons of pollution without consequence.

To close this huge loophole and level the playing field between coal and clean energy, the Senate must insist that the oldest, dirtiest plants will retire by a date certain or meet the same pollution standards as new plants. And, until they retire or clean up, existing plants must be prohibited from expanding their capacity and increasing carbon pollution.  These measures would create an incentive for industry to use cleaner technologies instead of continuing to lean on the dirty dinosaurs that generate too much of our electricity today.  Finally, if Congress cannot muster the backbone to clean up the nation’s oldest and most dangerous coal plants, it ought to restore the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to do so.

The stakes could not be greater.  We cannot let Big Coal get away with another massive loophole to continue polluting at the same level as today for 1-2 more decades.  Congress must close the coal loophole and make the coal industry slash its pollution. Our future depends on it.

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Blue Dogs Keeping Health Care Stuck In Committee

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Henry Waxman is looking to resume health care negotiations Thursday night. Maybe.

Waxman (D-Calif.) heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the final obstacle to a full House vote on health care reform. Debate stalled early Tuesday after conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who account for seven swing votes on the committee, demanded that their concerns over total costs be met. Since then, the Blue Dogs have met with Waxman and President Obama, who is pushing for a reform bill before Congress takes its vacation next month, to try and hammer out those issues.

“We’re getting close,” Waxman said, though he added that further cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office are necessary before work can resume on Thursday. “That may get delayed if we don’t have all the scores and don’t have everything agreed to.”

The Blue Dogs expect further delays given the list of 10 major issues they have left to address, committee member and Blue Dog leader Charlie Melancon (D-La.) said.

“They haven’t even started yet,” Melancon said. Could a deal be struck by tomorrow? “No way,” he said. “No way.”

The White House is watching closely. Nancy Ann DeParle, who heads Obama’s Office of Health Reform, sat in with Waxman and the Blue Dogs in their meeting Wednesday morning, Melancon said. He declined to specify what her priorities were, beyond “trying to reach agreement and get a good deal.”

Getting the bill out of committee should be the hard part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday morning. “I have no question that we have the votes on the floor of the House to pass this legislation,” Pelosi said.

The committee’s Blue Dogs, of course, challenge that assertion, too.

“The Speaker was well-intended, but I don’t think the votes are there now,” said Baron Hill (D-Ind.), a Blue Dog policy co-chair who sits on the energy committee. “We are making progress, albeit slowly, on trying to get a bill that we can vote out of committee, but we’ve got a whole lot of work to do.”

Melancon and Blue Dog frontman Mike Ross (D-Ark.) echoed Hill’s assertion that Pelosi lacks the support needed for full passage. “We’re speaking for a silent majority within the Democratic caucus,” Ross said. “No, I don’t think they have the votes.”

For his part, Waxman said he would like to see the bill reach the House floor next week, but other factors limit his control, from CBO scores to concurrent delay in the Senate Finance Committee and individuals’ “general comfort.”

“I’m an optimistic person,” Waxman said. “But maybe we will, maybe not.”

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Marc Andreessen, Ben Horowitz Talks Tech At Fortune Brainstorm

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky is interviewing Marc Andreessen in an evening session of the Fortune Brainstorm in Pasadena, CA.

Lashinsky starts the talk off on venture capital, of course, given Andreessen and Horowitz’s new $300 million venture fund called Andreessen Horowitz.

Andreessen, rehashing old material, says the goal is to be one of the few venture capitalists who are able to survive. He says that only a handful of startups do well enough to really make the returns for a VC, and he says his connections and reputation are solid enough to attract those startups to his fund. His focus: consumer Internet, business Internet (cloud computing, “software as a service”), mobile software and services, software-powered consumer electronics, infrastructure and applications software, networking, storage, databases, and other back-end systems.

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Billboard Hopes Its API Will Be A Cornerstone For Music Mashups

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Earlier today came news that Billboard, the well known music analytics company, was repositioning its homepage to serve as a consumer-friendly destination for music fans rather than the B2B hub it had been before. Alongside the release, the company has informed us that it’s planning to make its API more accesible to developers, with the hopes that it will spur a new wave of music-related applications built around the data. Developers can access the API at

Billboard has been churning out charts featuring popular music since the 1940s, with its most well known chart, the Hot 100, making its debut in 1958. These vast volumes of data can be used in any number of ways, from tracking overall trends to charting the success of an individual artist over time (you can see an example use of the data in this piece on Michael Jackson in the New York Times). In short, the data is something of a goldmine for data-hungry music fans.

Billboard is hoping that the new API will serve to make the site one of the foundations that music mashups are built around, in much the same way the Google Maps API has become a cornerstone for countless mashups. That’s much easier said than done, of course, and I doubt that the data will be as broadly useful. Still, we can likely look forward to some very cool projects in the near future.

Billboard actually opened its API early this year, but up until now it has done a minimal amount of marketing around it (the company was still primarily concerned with its B2B offerings).

Today’s news was also a major win for Lala, the very cool music startup that may have finally found the right formula for actually making money. The service now powers Billboard’s site-wide music player, offering immediate playback of many of Billboard’s top songs.

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Patent Defense Play RPX Closes Series B From Index, Kleiner, And Charles River

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

Defense Play RPX, a defensive patent aggregator, has raised an undisclosed amount of Series B funding led by Index Ventures with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Charles River Ventures participating. The company also raised an undisclosed Series A round of funding in September 2008 from Kleiner Perkins and and Charles River Ventures.

RPX first launched in November 2008 as a way to help companies defend themselves specifically against patent trolls (organizations that buy up patent portfolios with the express intention of forcing other companies to license those patents or face a lawsuit). RPX buys up its own patents, or strikes licensing deals on behalf of its members, and the charges companies $35,000 to $4.9 million a year for perpetual licenses to those patents. The deal is that if companies pay up, any patents in RPX’s portfolio can’t be used in litigation against a member company.

The company says that it has purchased nearly $90 million in patent rights in the mobile, Internet search, telecommunications, consumer electronics and RFID markets to date. RPX will use the funding to try to surpass its goal of acquiring $100 million in patents during its first year of operation, which means that the company has raised (via venture funding, debt, credit lines etc.) over $100 million. Not too shabby for a startup that launched during a recession.

RPX’s membership already includes many of the world’s largest technology companies, including HP, Nokia, Sony, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, and Seiko-Epson.

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Guess Who Lost Big on the Zappos Deal?

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

42-18033824The Zappos deal is widely viewed as a win-win-win. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gets to stay in charge with deeper pockets to keep building the company for the long term. Amazon expands its ecommerce dominance by snapping up the one company online shoppers may love more than Amazon itself. And Sequoia Capital gets to lock in a near-$1 billion win at a time when the rest of the venture industry is on the ropes.

But there is one big loser in all of this: Draper Richards. Sources close to Zappos tell us that Draper Richards– a firm that is frequently listed as a Zappos investor– actually holds no shares in the company. They lent Zappos about $250,000 in its early days, and when the dot com bubble burst demanded repayment. Zappos was strapped for cash, so they tried to convince Draper Richards to take stock at a discounted conversion rate instead, but the firm insisted on loan repayment. (Draper Richards confirmed they were only a lender, not an equity investor.)

I don’t have enough detail to know exactly what they would have netted today, but our source says they would have been Zappos’ largest– and no doubt happiest– shareholder. Sometimes it’s the deals a firm makes– or doesn’t make– in a crash that matter most.

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Skype Unleashes A “Super-Secret” Project: A Cheap Headset

July 23rd, 2009 admin No comments

headsetSkype is great, but it’s also kind of a pain in the ass if you’re talking to someone that has a crappy microphone. And Skype realizes that, so it put its engineers to work on a “super-secret” project: A headset that anyone could use, anywhere.

And today the company unveiled the FREETALK Everyman headset, a USB super wideband audio headset. While first and foremost the goal was to ensure great call quality, Skype also notes that this headset is, “lightweight and folds flat so you can throw it in your bag with your laptop.”

This roadtest review gives a full overview of how it works. Their conclusion? It’s good, but the best part is the price: $22.88. Good-quality headsets usually cost much more than that.

Of course, this super-secret Skype project did not solve the problem of looking like a huge dork when you are wearing a headset talking to a PC screen, but it’s a start.

You can buy the FREETALK Everyman headset here.

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