2017 NFL draft: Mitchell Trubisky leads five-man QB race for top spot

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/2017-nfl-draft-look-five-horse-race-top-quarterback-selections-012228467.html

 

The NFL’s quarterback draft class was a crapshoot in 2014.

Blake Bortles checked the boxes for talent evaluators but wasn’t considered a surefire franchise quarterback. Johnny Manziel was a sandlot, off-script playmaker with elite competitiveness but questionable work habits and character. Teddy Bridgewater was a dinker-and-dunker whose stock slid. Derek Carr was a natural passer who needed talent around him. And Jimmy Garoppolo was a small-school project with quick-release precision.

Picking the right guy was a challenge. And three years later, that group of five has shown exactly how big of an impact the right (or wrong) decision can have on a franchise.

All of that should sound familiar now because the 2017 quarterback class is shaping up in very much the same way. Figuring the best quarterback in the group is a matter of perspective, system, situational analytics and, well, for the lack of a better measurement, feel.

That’s what has come to define this NFL class, the reality that consensus opinions are hard to come by and nobody is sure who is going where. Indeed, with less than two weeks left, there isn’t a solid grasp on the exact order of the top five quarterbacks. That’s why the position is shaping up to be the biggest mystery of this year’s draft. The field is largely left up to the eye of the beholder.

With that in mind, here’s what NFL teams are seeing from the group with only a few days left to sort through the first-round candidates …

Despite having only 13 starts on his résumé, the opinion that Mitchell Trubisky is the most consistent NFL quarterback fit hasn’t faded with the draft process largely completed. While others in the class have better traits in a one-off competition, Trubisky has checked off more boxes across the board when it comes to what evaluators seek. That has made him the widely regarded favorite as the quarterback who will come off the board first. But that has also tied Trubisky solidly with a number of NFL teams.

The usual suspects have done major homework on Trubisky, including the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. At various points in the past week, four NFL evaluators told Yahoo Sports (adamantly) that different teams had zeroed in on Trubisky as their pick. One suggested Trubisky would be Cleveland’s choice, another pegged San Francisco and two others insisted Trubisky would end up in Chicago or Buffalo. That lack of uniformity suggests the only certainty about Trubisky’s stock is total uncertainty. Either teams are putting out smokescreens and using Trubisky as a chip in hopes of leveraging a trade-down scenario – which is likely – or he’s a lock to land inside the top three picks with a team already there or someone trading to get him.

One way or another, the consensus appears to have solidified under Trubisky as the first quarterback off the board. Where that will be is a lot of white noise at this point.

As NFL teams start splitting hairs in the quarterback group, there is one reality that almost always holds true: Size and arm strength get a second look. And a third. And a fourth. That’s a theme that has helped Davis Webb, whose top-shelf arm and stature (6-foot-5 and 230 pounds) is drawing eyeballs from a few NFL teams looking to groom an heir apparent at quarterback.

Deeper dives on Webb have been undertaken by the Chiefs, Cardinals, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, New York Giants and 49ers. Webb has also said on a few occasions that “double-digit” NFL teams have told him they have put a first-round grade on him. That’s a buzzy statement but it remains to be seen if it materializes. What isn’t in question is whether Webb is drawing serious attention. He is, despite being billed as a player who will need a year or two of mechanical work (on his throwing and footwork) to be effective in the NFL. Seen as a likely middle-round pick in January, Webb is looking like a second-round lock. And his arm strength may get a team at the end of the first round to bite or induce a trade up by an early second-round team.

In a way, DeShone Kizer has experienced the opposite momentum of Webb, seemingly drawing more critical reviews as the draft process has gone along. His college coach, Brian Kelly, hasn’t helped with some eyebrow-raising comments to media about Kizer’s needed growth as a player and leader. Given Kelly’s biting opinions, it’s fair to wonder what he’s privately telling NFL teams about his former starter.

There is strong interest in Kizer. At least 10 teams have done significant work on him, including the Cardinals, Chiefs, Jets, 49ers, Bears, Bills, Browns, L.A. Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans. The intrigue from so many quarterback-needy teams is testament to Kizer’s ideal size and arm strength. But as the process comes to a close in the next few weeks, he is still being dogged by accuracy issues. Most specifically, teams have problems with his performance under duress.

Basically, when the pocket gets ugly, Kizer’s accuracy is all over the place. While the concern isn’t on the level of Christian Hackenberg one year ago, there is reticence over a similar flaw.

Kizer has slipped from a potential top-five pick to a fringe first-rounder who could slip into the second.

Deshaun Watson isn’t the surest lock to be a successful NFL quarterback. His arm is noted to be adequate for the position but not exceptional. His timing and accuracy can be diced up depending on the situation. And even his physique is thought to need some fine-tuning. But there appears to be a consensus of some safety as Watson being the guy who has the most reliable first-round grade based on his overall body of work.

He produced a lot of tape and faced every imaginable scenario that evaluators wanted to see. When it comes to looking for intangibles or performances in different scenarios, there isn’t much mystery because Watson left Clemson with 38 games (and 35 starts) under his belt.

NFL Draft: Deshaun Watson breakdown beats

Yahoo Sports’ Tank Williams uses his signature style to profile the former Clemson quarterback heading into the 2017 NFL Draft.

Like Trubisky, Watson does a lot of things well. He also has maxed out the scale on intangibles and leadership qualities. But unlike Trubisky, his game has been nitpicked with nearly three times the tape available to NFL evaluators. That can sometimes become a negative because it can be a suggestion of a ceiling. In a way, evaluators feel like they know exactly what they are getting with Watson, while Trubisky is seen as a player with room to grow and with his best football ahead of him. Is there something that could ultimately vault Watson ahead of Trubisky on draft day? One evaluator said there is: Watson’s wealth of high-intensity, championship-caliber games. Those include two ACC championship games and four college football playoff contests. The impressive postseason games against Oklahoma, Ohio State and Alabama (twice) will carry a lot of weight on draft day. At the very least, enough to make Watson appear to be a safe first-round quarterback. Possibly among the teams that have done the most work on him, a group that includes the Browns, 49ers, Jets, Cardinals, Texans, Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Every few drafts, there is a volcanic “media heat” quarterback. Almost always, it’s a guy who wows everyone with exquisite arm talent. This year, that’s Mahomes, who has drawn some media comparisons to Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s unforgettable cannon. That’s some serious praise and probably overhyped.

One evaluator said it was more along the lines of Jay Cutler, noting that the challenge was determining if Mahomes was more Favre or Cutler when it came to intangibles and leadership – not arm strength. That undertaking, along with the possibility that Mahomes may be on the draft board longer than Trubisky or Watson, has led to personal visits or workouts with more than half the NFL since the scouting combine. Among those who have done the most work on Mahomes: The Browns, Chiefs, Texans, Saints, Chargers, Cardinals, Bears, 49ers, Giants, Jets, Steelers and Bills.

Where Mahomes lands might ultimately depend on what his other traits show in his meetings. One evaluator raved about Mahomes’ love of football. Another lamented his lack of natural athleticism, comparing him to Carson Palmer, a quarterback with a huge arm who can be statuesque in the pocket against a pass rush. Almost all shared some form of universal agreement that Mahomes’ ultimate destination will depend on how a team feels about the development left ahead for him – which could be immense because Mahomes’ elite arm allowed him to improvise and go off script a lot. Teams don’t see a lot of mechanical discipline in his game. Instilling that might take some time – if it’s doable in the first place.

Such a high-risk, high-reward proposition could lead to Mahomes being a stunning and unexpected high pick. Conversely, he could slide right into the second round.

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‘I want to lead France, not Europe’: Le Pen demands removal of EU flag for TV interview

https://www.rt.com/news/385329-marine-le-pen-eu-flag/
With France’s presidential election just days away, National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen symbolically demanded the removal of an EU flag from the studio for a TV interview. Earlier she promised a referendum on France’s EU membership if she wins the vote.

Political interviews in France often feature a combination of the national tricolor and the star-sprinkled blue-and-gold Flag of Europe – but not on Tuesday, when Le Pen visited the country’s TF1 channel.

“To agree to take part in this program, Madame Le Pen, you asked us to remove the European flag that should have been behind you,” said interviewer Gilles Bouleau by way of explanation.

“I want to be president of the French Republic, not of the European Commission, given that I believe the EU has done a lot of harm to our country, to our people, on an economic and social level, with the disappearance of borders,” replied Le Pen.

While Le Pen had on previous occasions appeared next to the EU flag, her attitude is not new. One of the 144 promises in her election manifesto is to remove the blue-and-gold flag from government buildings, as well as to ensure that a French flag is always present – a measure that has already been followed by FN-controlled local authorities.

The gesture sparked a debate online.

Fiers de notre , symbole d’unité, de solidarité et d’harmonie entre les peuples d’Europe. Ne le cachons pas. http://bit.ly/2h6mmk9 

“Proud of our flag, symbol of unity, solidarity and harmony between the peoples of Europe. Let’s not hide it,” tweeted the office of the European Commission in France on Wednesday.

“You’ll see, we’ll soon stuff your oligarchic rag in the cupboard,” shot back Florian Philippot, the FN vice-president.

Si si, vous allez voir, on va bientôt ranger au placard votre torchon oligarchique 😉. Vive le drapeau 🇫🇷! https://twitter.com/uefrance/status/854607624813367297 

While the focus on flags in a country beset by economic stagnation and living in a state of emergency due to a threat of terrorism may seem petty, it is indicative of the wider issues that have dominated what appears to be an unusually tight four-way race to make it into the run-off.

Le Pen, who, according to polls conducted in the past week is likely to move onto the second round, has argued that France must quit the euro, and has advocated a referendum on EU membership, similar to the one that led to Brexit last year. She has also argued for stronger border control as a way of limiting the impact of what she has called “twin globalizations” of wage-suppressing economic migration and Islamic terrorism.

U.S. Sets Sights On North Korea’s Vast Opium Fields

U.S. eyes North Korea's vast opium fields

As the U.S. prepares for war with North Korea, politicians and the media have failed to tell the public about the vast opium fields in the country.

As Afghanistan’s drug trafficking business continues to soar following the illegal occupation by U.S. forces 16 year ago, the military industrial complex are now setting their sights on North Korea.

Thefreethoughtproject.com reports:

“In its early stage, the Kim Jong-un regime declared a war against drugs, getting rid of poppy fields,” Kang Cheol-hwan, president of the defector organization, North Korea Strategy Center, told Yonhap News Agency last month. “But now they are cultivating them again.”

North Korea’s opium poppies remained at least somewhat secreted from its citizens under the rule of Kim Jong-il.

In an August 2011 interview with NPR, Ma Young Ae — a defector and former North Korean spy who lives in Virginia — explained she “worked for Kim Jong Il’s internal police force. Her job was was to track down drug smugglers. That sounds like pretty normal law enforcement, except for one difference. She was supposed to stop small-time Korean drug dealers in order to protect the biggest drug dealer in the country: the North Korean government.

“Ma told us the North Korean government produced opium on a large scale. But it hid its poppy fields from most of the population. Ma only saw the fields because she was an insider.

“After harvesting the fields, the government would put its empty factories to use. The government would turn on its production lines at night and process opium, Ma says. Then they would pack the product in plastic cubes the size of dictionaries and smuggle it out of the country through China.”

Kim Jong-il’s son and successor instead chose to fight the war on drugs — until the Chinese Commerce Ministry suspended imports of coal from February through the end of the year, in response to one of Pyongyang’s contentious ballistic missiles tests.

Faced with the rapid loss of hard currency and an uphill battle to fund the regime’s activities — coal comprised an estimated 40 percent of North Korea’s exports to China — Kim Jong-un appears to have cozied to the wallet-stuffing possibilities the prized poppy provides.

Noting the war on drugs had already failed, Kang added, “The North is cultivating poppy fields again for drug smuggling as a way to secure funds to manage its regime.”

Funding an entire government’s operations from the cultivation and production of opium should be a piece of cake — should illegal markets fail, America has an insidious obsession with opioids.

Tens of thousands each year die of overdoses from heroin, opioids, and/or their synthetics in the United States, alone — in large part, courtesy of the pharmaceutical industry’s reckless devotion to painkillers.

Vox reported March 29 the opioid “epidemic has by and large been caused by the rise in opioid overdose deaths. First, opioid painkiller overdoses began to rise, as doctors began to fill out a record number of prescriptions for the drugs in an attempt to treat patients’ pain conditions. Then, people hooked on painkillers began to move over to heroin as they or their sources of drugs lost their prescriptions. And recently, more people have begun moving to fentanyl, an opioid that’s even more potent and cheaper than heroin. The result is a deadly epidemic that so far shows no signs of slowing down.”

And how could it slow down?

Opioids doled out like candy by doctors and hospitals to those suffering but unaware of the addiction pitfalls inherent in rising tolerance, short-term prescriptions, and — in particular — the availability of potent substances like heroin and fentanyl on the black market.

This isn’t by far purely an issue to be blamed on illegal trade in drugs. Media Roots’ Abby Martin elaborated on the perniciousness of the opioid crisis in 2014, stating,

“In today’s globalized world of rule-for-profit, one can’t discount the role that multinational corporations play in US foreign policy decisions either. Not only have oil companies and private military contractors made a killing off the occupation, big pharmaceutical companies, which collectively lobby over 250 million dollars annually to Congress, need opium latex to manufacture drugs for this pill happy nation. As far as the political elite funneling the tainted funds, the recent HSBC bank scandal exposed how trillions of dollars in black market sales are brazenly being laundered offshore.”

For the welcome relief opioid painkillers offer those who suffer severe discomfort, the medications’ highly-addictive nature leaves doctors reluctant to write strong prescriptions. However, if tolerance builds, and medical personnel refuse to increase dosage accordingly, those still facing unbearable pain often shop black markets — where the purity and safety of substances cannot be verified — to supplement their supplies.

It must be duly noted, America’s opioid epidemic mushroomed only after U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan.

“Within six months of the U.S. invasion,” wrote Matthieu Aikins for the December 4, 2014, Rolling Stone, “the warlords we backed were running the opium trade, and the spring of 2002 saw a bumper harvest of 3,400 tons.”

Just prior to boots and bombs hitting the ground, opium production in Afghanistan fell to an impressive low of 185 pounds — all-too ironically, thanks to Taliban efforts to eradicate the entire supply of opium poppies.

Mint Press News’ Mnar Muhawesh wrote last year, “The War in Afghanistan saw the country’s practically dead opium industry expanded dramatically. By 2014, Afghanistan was producing twice as much opium as it did in 2000. By 2015, Afghanistan was the source of 90 percent of the world’s opium poppy.”

Claiming terrorism as the impetus for invading Afghanistan would be at least as absurd as the Drug Enforcement Agency claiming the global War on Drugs has been a success. Taliban forces have returned in strength to the nation whose opium poppies are guarded by U.S. troops — who are putatively present to fight in the ongoing War on Terror.

After a moment deeply pondering the last point, it’s imperative to address current events — specifically, U.S. military vessels already present in the South and East China Seas, amid dangerously high tensions with North Korea.

North Korea — who announced weeks ago its debilitated economy would seek relief from, yes, the cultivation and production of opium poppies.

Perpetually bellicose Pyongyang is no stranger to hyperbole in military prowess — so much so, threats of direct nuclear strikes by North Korea against the United States are typically downplayed by Washington, if not dismissed with a snide grin.

Pyongyang’s testing of ballistic and other missiles has been deemed a threat to the national security of South Korea, where a U.S. missile defense system pointed North has further heightened hostilities on the peninsula and in the region.

Of one such missile launch Sunday, Defense Secretary James Mattis admonished,

“The leader of North Korea again recklessly tried to provoke something by launching a missile.”

Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, warned on Monday the U.S. has “created a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any minute” — adding, Pyongyang “is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S.”

Whether that war includes plans for the U.S. usurpation of North Korea’s literal cash crop of opium poppies will undoubtedly be determined soon.

Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses, Calling It an Extremist Group

MOSCOW — Russia’s Supreme Court on Thursday declared Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that rejects violence, an extremist organization, banning the group from operating on Russian territory and putting its more than 170,000 Russian worshipers in the same category as Islamic State militants.

The ruling, which confirmed an order last month by the Justice Ministry that the denomination be “liquidated” — essentially eliminated or disbanded — had been widely expected. Russian courts rarely challenge government decisions, no matter what the evidence.

Viktor Zhenkov, a lawyer for the denomination, said Jehovah’s Witnesses would appeal the ruling. He said it had focused on the activities of the organization’s so-called administrative center, a complex of offices outside St. Petersburg, but also branded all of its nearly 400 regional branches as extremist.

“We consider this decision an act of political repression that is impermissible in contemporary Russia,” Mr. Zhenkov said in a telephone interview. “We will, of course, appeal.”

An initial appeal will be made to the Supreme Court’s appellate division, Mr. Zhenkov said, and if that fails, Jehovah’s Witnesses will take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France.

Hard-line followers of Russia’s dominant faith, the Orthodox Church, have lobbied for years to have Jehovah’s Witnesses outlawed or at least curbed as a heretical sect, but the main impetus for the current campaign to crush a Christian group active in Russia for more than a century seems to have come from the country’s increasingly assertive security apparatus.

Founded in the United States in the 19th century, Jehovah’s Witnesses has its worldwide headquarters in the United States and, along with all foreign-led groups outside the control of the state, is viewed with deep suspicion by Russia’s post-Soviet version of the KGB: the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B.

Summing up the Justice Ministry’s case against the denomination, the ministry’s representative, Svetlana Borisova, told the Supreme Court on Thursday that Jehovah’s Witnesses had shown “signs of extremist activity that represent a threat to the rights of citizens, social order and the security of society.”

During six days of hearings over two weeks, lawyers and witnesses for the religious group repeatedly dismissed the extremist allegation as absurd, arguing that reading the Bible and promoting its nonviolent message could in no way be construed as extremist.

Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued in Moscow, condemned the court ruling as “a serious breach of Russia’s obligations to respect and protect religious freedom.”

Rachel Denber, the human rights group’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said the decision delivered “a terrible blow to freedom of religion and association in Russia.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses shuns political activity and has no record of even peaceful — never mind violent — hostility to the Russian authorities. But it has faced growing hostility from the state since President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia began his third term in 2012 and put the Orthodox Church at the center of his push to assert Russia as a great military and moral power.

The denomination suffered relentless persecution by the KGB during the Soviet era, and after more than a decade of relative peace following the collapse of Communism in 1991, it again became a target for official harassment under a 2002 anti-extremism law. That law makes it illegal for any group, other than the Orthodox Church and other traditional religious institutions, to proclaim itself as offering a true path to religious or political salvation.

Jeff Sessions Marvels At How A Judge ‘On An Island In The Pacific’ Could Stall Travel Ban

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jeff-sessions-judge-island-travel-ban_us_58f91582e4b00fa7de1292d1

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressed skepticism that a federal judge who serves in Hawaii had the power to block President Donald Trump’s retooled travel ban, which has been stuck in the courts since last month.

 

“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions told “The Mark Levin Show,” a conservative talk show, earlier this week, according to a report by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, a Hawaii native, issued an order March 15 that put a stop to important aspects of Trump’s second travel ban. That order, which applies nationwide, is being challenged by Sessions’ Department of Justice before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. A Virginia-based court is considering a separate Justice Department appeal to a Maryland ruling against the travel ban

The night Watson issued his ruling, Trump complained to a booing audience in Tennessee that the judge’s ruling was “flawed” and that it “makes us look weak.” Watson has reportedly been the subject of threats for ruling against the president’s executive order, which would limit travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries and halt refugee resettlement programs.

The two senators from Hawaii, both Democrats, reacted strongly to Sessions’ comment. Sen. Mazie Hirono likened his remarks about Watson to “dog whistle politics.”

Mr. Attorney General: You voted for that judge. And that island is called Oahu. It’s my home. Have some respect. https://twitter.com/ianbremmer/status/855131597577834496 

Hey Jeff Sessions, this has been the 50th state for going on 58 years. And we won’t succumb to your dog whistle politics

In a statement later Thursday, Hirono, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee that vets and confirms federal judges, called Sessions’ suggestion that Watson is somehow unable to carry out his duties impartially “dangerous, ignorant, and prejudiced.”

“I am frankly dumbfounded that our nation’s top lawyer would attack our independent judiciary,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is just the latest in the Trump Administration’s attacks against the very tenets of our Constitution and democracy.”

Hawaii’s attorney general, Doug Chin, whose state led the charge against the second travel ban in federal court, blasted Sessions over his apparent disregard for the separation of powers.

 

“Our federal courts, established under article III of the Constitution, are co-equal partners with Congress and the President,” Chin said in a statement late Thursday. “It is disappointing AG Sessions does not acknowledge that.”

 

A Justice Department spokesman tried to mitigate Sessions’ comments.

“Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific — a beautiful one where the Attorney General’s granddaughter was born,” Ian D. Prior said in an email to The Huffington Post on Thursday. “The point, however, is that there is a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the President’s lawful exercise of authority to keep the entire country safe.”

 

Trump’s swipes against the federal judiciary since taking office have alarmed court watchers and the public. Even Justice Neil Gorsuch faced a tough round of grilling in confirmation hearings last month from senators asking about the president’s outbursts. The then-nominee declined to call Trump out by name, saying that he couldn’t get into politics.

 

Trump and his surrogates’ openly anti-Muslim sentiments have haunted his executive orders in the courts. In his ruling, Watson found that the second travel ban — which was crafted to correct deep flaws courts found with the first one — was likely unconstitutional because it was implemented with the intent to target members of a particular religion.

 

In the Levin interview, Sessions said that judges shouldn’t “psychoanalyze” Trump’s motives and instead look at the national security rationale behind it.

Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.

This story has been updated to include Chin’s statement.

Trump raises stakes on government shutdown, demands border wall funds in spending bill

The White House said Thursday that it wants to see money for President Trump’s border wall included in the spending bill Congress must pass next week — a demand Democrats said sours negotiations and makes a government shutdown more likely.

The demands mark a reversal for the administration, which had been saying it found enough money to build prototypes this year and wouldn’t need a major infusion of cash until next year.

But White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that the wall and the money for more immigration agents are priorities.

“We know there are a lot of people on the Hill, especially in the Democratic Party, who don’t like the wall, but they lost the election. And the president should, I think, at least have the opportunity to fund one of his highest priorities in the first funding bill under his administration,” Mr. Mulvaney said.

The White House issued its demand just days after Democrats insisted that the spending bill include billions of dollars to prop up Obamacare. Democratic aides signaled that they wouldn’t accept a bill without the cost-sharing payments intended to keep insurers invested in the health care law.

With Mr. Mulvaney’s demand, both sides now appear to be entrenching.

AP Explains: 4/20 grew from humble roots to pot high holiday

Thursday marks marijuana culture’s high holiday, 4/20, when college students gather — at 4:20 p.m. — in clouds of smoke on campus quads and when pot shops in legal weed states thank their customers with discounts.

This year’s edition provides an occasion for pot activists to reflect on how far their movement has come, with recreational pot now allowed in eight states and the nation’s capital, as well as a changed national political climate that could threaten to slow or undermine their cause.

Here’s a look at the holiday’s history.

___

WHY 4/20?

The origins of the date, and the term “420” generally, were long murky. Some claimed it referred to a police code for marijuana possession or that it arose from Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35,” with its refrain of “Everybody must get stoned” — 420 being the product of 12 times 35.

But in recent years, a consensus has emerged around the most credible explanation: It started with a group of bell-bottomed buddies from San Rafael High School in California, who called themselves “the Waldos.” A friend’s brother was afraid of getting busted for a patch of cannabis he was growing in the woods at Point Reyes, so he drew a map and gave the teens permission to harvest the crop, the story goes.

During fall 1971, at 4:20 p.m., just after classes and football practice, the group would meet up at the school’s statue of chemist Louis Pasteur, smoke a joint and head out to search for the weed patch. They never did find it, but their private lexicon — “420 Louie” and later just “420” — would take on a life of its own.

The Waldos saved postmarked letters and other artifacts from the 1970s referencing “420,” which they now keep in a bank vault, and when the Oxford English Dictionary added the term last month , it cited some of those documents as the entry’s earliest recorded uses .

___

HOW DID ‘420’ SPREAD?

 

A brother of one of the Waldos was a close friend of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, as Lesh once confirmed in an interview with the Huffington Post. The Waldos began hanging out in the band’s circle, and the slang spread.

Fast-forward to the early 1990s: Steve Bloom, a reporter for the cannabis magazine High Times, was at a Dead show when he was handed a flier urging people to “meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” High Times published it.

“It’s a phenomenon,” said one of the Waldos, Steve Capper, now 62 and a chief executive at a payroll financing company in San Francisco. “Most things die within a couple years, but this just goes on and on. It’s not like someday somebody’s going to say, ‘OK, Cannabis New Year’s is on June 23rd now.'”

Bloom, now editor in chief of Freedom Leaf Magazine, notes that while the Waldos came up with the term, the people who made the flier — and effectively turned 4/20 into a holiday — remain unknown.

___

HOW IS IT CELEBRATED?

 

With weed, naturally. Some of the celebrations are bigger than others; Hippie Hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park typically draws thousands. In Seattle, the organizers of the annual Hempfest event are anticipating about 250 people at a private party. Some pot shops are offering discounts or hosting block parties.

College quads and statehouse lawns are also known for drawing 4/20 celebrants, with the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus historically among the largest gatherings — though not so much since administrators started closing off the campus several years ago. Generally, 4/20 events in Colorado have dropped off significantly since the state legalized recreational use in 2012.

Some breweries make 4/20 themed beers — including SweetWater Brewing in Atlanta, whose founders attended CU-Boulder. Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, California, releases its “Waldos’ Special Ale” every year on 4/20 in honor of the term’s coiners.

___

THE POLITICS

 

This year’s 4/20 follows successful legalization campaigns in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts, which join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington in allowing recreational marijuana. More than half the states allow medical marijuana.

But it’s still illegal under U.S. law. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of marijuana policy this month to see how it may conflict with President Donald Trump’s crime-fighting agenda.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently called marijuana “a potentially dangerous gateway drug that frequently leads to the use of harder drugs.” That’s a view long held by drug warriors despite scant evidence.

Sixty percent of adults support legalizing marijuana, according to a Gallup poll last fall, and two-thirds of respondents in a Yahoo/Marist poll released this week said marijuana is safer than opioids.

Undermining regulatory schemes in legal pot states could prompt a backlash that would hasten the end of federal prohibition, said Vivian McPeak, a founder of Seattle’s Hempfest.

“We’re looking at an attorney general who wants to bring America back into the 1980s in terms of drug policy,” McPeak said. “I’m skeptical they can put the cannabis genie back into the bottle.”

___

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

 

McPeak says 4/20 these days is “half-celebration and half-call to action.”

For the Waldos, who remain close friends, it signifies above all else a good time, Capper said.

“We’re not political. We’re jokesters,” he said. “But there was a time that we can’t forget, when it was secret, furtive. … The energy of the time was more charged, more exciting in a certain way.

“I’m not saying that’s all good — it’s not good they were putting people in jail,” he added. “You wouldn’t want to go back there.”

Diet sodas may be tied to stroke, dementia risk

http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/20/health/diet-sodas-stroke-dementia-study/

(CNN) Gulping down an artificially sweetened beverage not only may be associated with health risks for your body, but also possibly your brain, a new study suggests.

Artificially sweetened drinks, such as diet sodas, were tied to a higher risk of stroke and dementia in the study, which published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke on Thursday.
The study sheds light only on an association, as the researchers were unable to determine an actual cause-and-effect relationship between sipping artificially sweetened drinks and an increased risk for stroke and dementia. Therefore, some experts caution that the findings should be interpreted carefully.
No connection was found between those health risks and other sugary beverages, such as sugar-sweetened sodas, fruit juice and fruit drinks.
Are diet sodas dangerous to your health?

Are diet sodas dangerous to your health? 04:19
“We have little data on the health effects of diet drinks and this is problematic because diet drinks are popular amongst the general population,” said Matthew Pase, a senior research fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and lead author of the new study.
“More research is needed to study the health effects of diet drinks so that consumers can make informed choices concerning their health,” he said.
The new study involved data on 2,888 adults older than 45 and 1,484 adults older than 60 from the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The data came from the Framingham Heart Study, a project of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University.
In the older-than-45 group, the researchers measured for stroke and in the older-than-60 group, they measured for dementia.
“The sample sizes are different because we studied people of different ages,” Pase said. “Dementia is rare in people under the age of 60 and so we focused only on those aged over 60 years for dementia. Similarly, stroke is rare in people aged under 45 and so we focused on people older than age 45 for stroke.”
How diet soda confuses your body

How diet soda confuses your body 01:52
The researchers analyzed how many sugary beverages and artificially sweetened soft drinks each person in the two different age groups drank, at different time points, between 1991 and 2001. Then, they compared that with how many people suffered stroke or dementia over the next 10 years.
Compared to never drinking artificially sweetened soft drinks, those who drank one a day were almost three times as likely to have an ischemic stroke, caused by blocked blood vessels, the researchers found.
They also found that those who drank one a day were nearly three times as likely to be diagnosed with dementia.
Those who drank one to six artificially sweetened beverages a week were 2.6 times as likely to experience an ischemic stroke but were no more likely to develop dementia, Pase said.
“So, it was not surprising to see that diet soda intake was associated with stroke and dementia. I was surprised that sugary beverage intake was not associated with either the risks of stroke or dementia because sugary beverages are known to be unhealthy,” Pase said.
Unhealthy sugary drinks

In response, Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association, issued a statement from the group that said low-calorie sweeteners found in beverages have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities.
“The FDA, World Health Organization, European Food Safety Authority and others have extensively reviewed low-calorie sweeteners and have all reached the same conclusion — they are safe for consumption,” the statement said.
“While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect. And according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many risk factors can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing stroke and dementia including age, hypertension, diabetes and genetics. NIH does not mention zero calorie sweeteners as a risk factor,” the statement said. “America’s beverage companies support and encourage balanced lifestyles by providing people with a range of beverage choices — with and without calories and sugar — so they can choose the beverage that is right for them.”
Separate previous studies have shown an association between the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and adverse health effects, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and possibly even heart failure.
“This article provides further evidence though on artificially sweetened beverages and their possible effects on vascular health, including stroke and dementia,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco, professor and chair of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, about the new study.
Sacco was a co-author of an editorial published alongside the study in the journal Stroke on Thursday.
“We believe the pathways of which artificially sweetened beverages would affect the brain are probably through vascular mechanisms,” Sacco said.
“When the authors controlled for hypertension and diabetes and obesity the effects diminish, which implies that some of the effects of artificially sweetened beverages could still be going through a vascular pathway,” he said about the new study. “Many strokes are caused by hardening of arteries; and the risk of dementia is also increased by the hardening of arteries in large and small vessels. So, I believe the mechanisms may be through vascular disease, though we can’t prove it.”
Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association, called the new study “a piece of a larger puzzle” when it comes to better understanding how your diet and behaviors impact your brain.
“It’s actually really more of your overall diet and overall lifestyle that is linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk, and we do know that heart disease and diabetes are linked to an increased risk of dementia,” said Snyder, who was not involved in the new study.
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“We know that sugary and artificially sweetened beverages are not great for us. This study adds strength to that, and also says they may not be great for your brain, specifically,” she said. “There are alternatives — things we can all do everyday to keep our brains and our bodies as healthy as we can as we age.” Alternatives such as regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates heart rate and increases blood flow and doing puzzles and games to activate and challenge the mind. These are recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Associations list of 10 lifestyle habits to reduce risk of cognitive decline.

Trillions of Plastic Bits, Swept Up by Current, Are Littering Arctic Waters

The world’s oceans are littered with trillions of pieces of plastic — bottles, bags, toys, fishing nets and more, mostly in tiny particles — and now this seaborne junk is making its way into the Arctic.

In a study published Wednesday in Science Advances, a group of researchers from the University of Cádiz in Spain and several other institutions show that a major ocean current is carrying bits of plastic, mainly from the North Atlantic, to the Greenland and Barents seas, and leaving them there — in surface waters, in sea ice and possibly on the ocean floor.

Because climate change is already shrinking the Arctic sea ice cover, more human activity in this still-isolated part of the world is increasingly likely as navigation becomes easier. As a result, plastic pollution, which has grown significantly around the world since 1980, could spread more widely in the Arctic in decades to come, the researchers say.

Andrés Cózar Cabañas, the study’s lead author and a professor of biology at the University of Cádiz, said he was surprised by the results, and worried about possible outcomes.

Fragments of fishing lines found in Arctic surface waters by the research team. CreditAndres Cozar

“We don’t fully understand the consequences the plastic is having or will have in our oceans,” he said. “What we do know is that this consequences will be felt at greater scale in an ecosystem like this” because it is unlike any other on Earth.

Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic gets into the ocean, and scientists estimate that there may be as much as 110 million tons of plastic trash in the ocean. Though the environmental effects of plastic pollution are not fully understood, plastic pollution has made its way into the food chain. Plastic debris in the ocean was thought to accumulate in big patches, mostly in subtropical gyres — big currents that converge in the middle of the ocean — but scientists estimate that only about 1 percent of plastic pollution is in these gyres and other surface waters in the open ocean.

Another model of ocean currents by one of the study’s authors predicted that plastic garbage could also accumulate in the Arctic Ocean, specifically in the Barents Sea, located off the northern coasts of Russia and Norway, which this study demonstrates.

The surface water plastic in the Arctic Ocean currently accounts for only about 3 percent of the total, but the authors suggest the amount will grow and that the seafloor there could be a big sink for plastic.

This particular part of the ocean is important in the thermohaline circulation, a deepwater global current dictated by differences in temperature and salinity around the world. As that current brings warm surface water up to the Arctic, it seems to be bringing with it plastic waste from more densely populated coastlines, dumping the now-fragmented pieces of plastic in the Arctic, where landmasses like Greenland and the polar ice cap trap them.

Scientists aboard the research vessel Tara lower nets into the water to collect plankton and microplastics.CreditAnna Deniaud/Tara Expeditions Foundation

The scientists sampled floating plastic debris from 42 sites in the Arctic Ocean aboard Tara, a research vessel that completed a trip around the North Pole from June to October 2013, with data from two additional sites from a previous trip. They scooped up plastic debris and determined the concentration of particles by dividing the dry weight of the plastic collected, excluding microfibers, by the area surveyed.

Almost all of the plastic, measured by weight, was in fragments, mostly ranging from 0.5 millimeters to 12.6 millimeters. The rest of the plastic appeared in the form of fishing line, film or pellets. This mix of plastic types is roughly consistent with the kinds of plastic that collect in the subtropical gyres, though those parts of the ocean amasses a higher concentration of fishing line.

The researchers did not find many large pieces of plastic, nor did they find much plastic film, which breaks down quickly, suggesting that the plastic has already been in the ocean for a while by the time it gets to the Arctic.

If the plastics were coming directly from Arctic coastlines, it would mean that people in the sparsely populated Arctic were depositing many more times the plastic in the ocean than people in other parts of the world, which is unlikely. Shipping is also relatively infrequent there and, the authors write, there is no reason to think that flotsam or jetsam in the Arctic would be so much higher than in other parts of the world.

The lesson from the study, Dr. Cózar Cabañas said, is that the issue of plastic pollution “will require international agreements.”

“This plastic is coming from us in the North Atlantic,” he said. “And the more we know about what happens in the Arctic, the better chance we have” of solving the problem.

Trump to sign actions on taxes, Wall Street regulation

President Trump on Friday is slated sign three executive actions meant to spark reviews of tax and financial regulations, the latest in the White House’s effort to rethink and potentially roll back federal oversight.

The precise impact of the new actions is unclear, but they could lead to a loosening of restrictions on the way companies are structured and scale back regulations on large financial companies.

Trump will sign all three documents at the Treasury Department, the agency said.

The documents will include an executive order that directs Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to “review significant tax regulations issued in 2016” to see if they “impose an undue financial burden on American taxpayers, add undue complexity, or exceed statutory authority.”

One of the most sweeping tax regulations imposed in 2016 was written by the Obama administration’s Treasury Department and it made it much harder for companies to use a process known as “inversion” to incorporate overseas in places like Ireland so that they could avoid paying U.S. taxes.

A spike in the number of companies using this tax loophole – particularly pharmaceutical firms – outraged U.S. lawmakers from both parties and prompted the Treasury Department to act. But many firms complained that the Obama administration was overstepping its authority. It’s unclear if the inversion rule will be part of the new Treasury review.

Trump will also sign two new memorandums on Friday at Treasury, though they both seem to overlap with reviews that are already underway.

One will direct Mnuchin to review something called “orderly liquidation authority,” Treasury said, which is a regulatory process that requires a process for winding down large, failing financial companies. This review would look at whether an “enhanced bankruptcy authority” would be better than the process established by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. The review also asks Treasury to consider whether the liquidation rules “could lead to excessive risk-taking” by financial companies.

The Treasury Department is already conducting a review of existing financial regulations, however, and it’s unclear how this new memorandum would direct the agency to do anything differently from what it is already considering.

The other presidential memorandum would call for a review of the way the Financial Stability Oversight Council designates certain companies for enhanced financial regulation, a threshold set up by the Dodd-Frank law. Many financial companies and Wall Street executives have complained about this process, but it is another part of the financial regulatory system that was supposed to already be under review.