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.

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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 .

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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U.S. economy grew at weak 1.9 percent rate in 4th quarter

The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.9 percent rate in the fourth quarter, unchanged from an initial estimate, although consumers performed better than first thought.

The increase in the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic health, represented a significant slowdown from 3.5 percent growth recorded in the third quarter, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday.

The fourth quarter figure was unchanged from the first estimate a month ago, although some of the components were revised. The government found that consumer spending grew at a faster rate, but spending by state and local governments and businesses equipment purchases were weaker.

Growth for 2016 overall was just 1.6 percent, the poorest showing in five years. Since the recession ended in mid-2009, annual growth has averaged 2.1 percent, the worst performance for any recovery in the post-World War II period.

President Donald Trump vowed during the campaign to double economic growth to 4 percent or better. He said his economic program of tax cuts, deregulation and increased spending in such areas as the military and infrastructure would boost the economy back to growth rates not seen on a sustained basis in decades.

However, Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has cited a lower projection. He has said he believes the Trump program would achieve growth 3 percent or better and that the improvements would likely not be felt until 2018, after the Trump program had been enacted.

Even a 3 percent growth goal is viewed by many economists as overly optimistic, given the headwinds the economy faces including an aging workforce and disappointing productivity gains.

At the moment, many economists are forecasting growth for this year of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent. Some say growth could hit 3 percent in the second half of the year if elements of Trump’s economic program such as the middle-class tax cuts win approval in Congress by this summer.

Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said that even with the fourth quarter slowdown, the second half of 2016 was much better than the first half, with encouraging signs from business and consumer surveys.

“The marked improvement in the survey evidence recently suggests that growth will continue at a decent pace in the first half of this year,” he said, predicting GDP growth of 2.5 percent in the first quarter.

While the overall GDP figure in the fourth quarter was unchanged, the report Tuesday did show revisions to various components. Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, was revised to show solid growth at a 3 percent rate, up from an initial estimate of 2.5 percent growth.

But spending by state and local governments was revised lower to 1.3 percent growth, just half the initial 2.6 percent estimate. Spending by businesses on equipment such as cell phones was revised down to a 1.9 percent increase instead of the initial 3.1 percent estimate. Housing construction was trimmed to growth at a still-strong rate of 9.6 percent but lower than the initial 10.2 percent gain.

The release Tuesday was the second of three estimates the government releases for GDP performance each quarter.

Trump was expected to unveil details of his economic plans before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. The budget portion of that program will feature a $54 billion boost in military spending. The extra spending is intended for new aircraft, ships and fighters and will be paid for with $54 billion in cuts in domestic programs and foreign aid.

The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates twice in the past two years but Fed officials have signaled that rates could increase three times this year as the economy moves closer to the Fed’s goals for employment and inflation.

US Holocaust survivors’ requests for help grew by 20 percent in ’16, aid group says

(JTA) — A group that provides assistance to Holocaust survivors in the United States said requests for assistance grew by 20 percent in 2016 over the previous year.

The Blue Card, making the announcement this week ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, said about one-third of the approximately 100,000 Holocaust survivors in the U.S. now are living at or below the poverty line. It is estimated that 61 percent of the survivors living at the poverty line live on less than $23,000 per year, making it difficult to afford proper medical care, mental health care, nutrition and other basic necessities, according to the organization.

In a recent survey of Holocaust survivors that The Blue Card works with, the group found the greatest needs for financial assistance were for home care (13 percent), food (12 percent) and utilities (12 percent), as well as assistance with supplies for Jewish holidays (11 percent), dental care (10 percent), medication (9 percent), housing expenses (9 percent), transportation (9 percent) and medical supplies (8 percent).

Founded in Germany in 1934, and re-established in the United States in 1939, The Blue Card has distributed nearly $30 million to Holocaust survivors.

U.S. Household Income Grew 5.2 Percent in 2015, Breaking Pattern of Stagnation

WASHINGTON — Americans last year reaped the largest economic gains in nearly a generation as poverty fell, health insurance coverage spread and incomes rose sharply for households on every rung of the economic ladder, ending years of stagnation.

The median household’s income in 2015 was $56,500, up 5.2 percent from the previous year — the largest single-year increase since record-keeping began in 1967, the Census Bureau said on Tuesday. The share of Americans living in poverty also posted the sharpest decline in decades.

The gains were an important milestone for the economic expansion that began in 2009. For the first time in recent years, the benefits of renewed prosperity are spreading broadly.

The data was released into a heated presidential race, where Democrats seized on the statistics to promote Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and undercut Donald J. Trump’s dark assessment of the nation’s well-being.

“It has been a long slog from the depths of the Great Recession, but things are finally starting to improve for many American households,” said Chris G. Christopher Jr., director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight. He said the gains had continued this year.

The economic recovery, however, remains incomplete. The median household income was still 1.6 percent lower than in 2007, adjusting for inflation. It also remained 2.4 percent lower than the peak reached during the boom of the late 1990s. The number of people living in poverty also remained elevated, although it shrank last year by about 3.5 million, or roughly 8 percent.

Mark R. Rank, a professor of social welfare at Washington University in St. Louis, said the new data “is obviously good news.” But he noted that poverty and income inequality in the United States remained more extreme than in most developed countries. “It would take a lot to move that needle,” he said.

 

The Census Bureau also reported that the share of Americans with health insurance continued to increase. It said that only 9.1 percent of the population had no health insurance last year.

Household income rose significantly last year, but it is still slightly lower than it was before the last two recessions. The rate of those living in poverty fell to its lowest level since the Great Recession, but, as with income, the rate is higher than it was before.
Several states, including Alaska, Indiana and Pennsylvania, expanded their Medicaid programs in 2015, taking advantage of increased federal funding under the Affordable Care Act. Private sector coverage also increased as companies hired more workers and offered them better benefits.

With the presidential election looming in less than two months, the annual report provided immediate fodder.

“We lifted three and a half million people out of poverty, the largest one-year drop in poverty since 1968,” President Obama said on Tuesday at a rally in Philadelphia for Mrs. Clinton. “The uninsured rate is the lowest since they began keeping records. The pay gap between men and women shrank to the lowest level on record,” he said, adding, “Thanks, Obama.”

Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, has repeatedly cited the stagnation of household income as evidence of a broader economic malaise. He did not address the new report directly at a rally in Clive, Iowa, but he said the Obama administration’s economic policies had failed.

“Poverty is beyond belief,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s time to break up the failed Democratic control over our inner cities, and provide real hope and opportunity to every single community in this nation.”

The Census Bureau’s annual report, based on a survey of 95,000 households, is the latest evidence that 2015 was a good year for the economy. Employers added more than three million jobs as the unemployment rate fell to 5 percent. Hourly pay increased by 2 percent, adjusting for inflation. Americans drove more miles in their cars. Even housing showed some signs of a revival.

The details of the bureau’s report revealed that the gains last year were both broad and deep. Notably, lower-income households saw the largest income gains in percentage terms. Real household incomes rose 7.9 percent for households in the 10th percentile and 6.3 percent for those in the 20th percentile. By contrast, the increase was only 2.9 percent for those households in the 90th percentile.

“You know the old saying, ‘When the economy sniffles, the least advantaged catch pneumonia?’” said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research organization, and a former adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “Well, that works the other way, too. The benefits of closing in on full employment disproportionately flow to the least advantaged.”

The increase in median income outpaced average income, which rose 4.5 percent to $79,263. The median income is the amount that divides households evenly between those that make less and those that make more. Average income is generally higher because some households make a lot more.

 

The gains, however, came mostly from job growth rather than wage growth. More people are working, but many of them are still struggling to maintain their standard of living.

Jeff Labruzzo, 56, said he was still earning significantly less than before the recession. Mr. Labruzzo, who lives in southwest Louisiana, treats building sites for termites before concrete is poured. The construction business remains soft, and Mr. Labruzzo said he faced increased competition from firms that employ illegal immigrants. He had five workers, but he recently let two of them go.

“Things are to the point where I’m thinking about just closing up the business and letting my income drop,” Mr. Labruzzo said. As a veteran, he said he could then qualify for government health benefits.

Last year’s income gains do not fundamentally alter the economy’s long-term trajectory. Growth remains slow despite the Federal Reserve’s campaign to stimulate the economy. Predictions of faster growth, followed a few months later by disappointment, have become an annual ritual.

Both Fed officials and outside economists argue that stronger growth requires action by fiscal policy makers. But Democrats and Republicans are at loggerheads over the best steps, and there is little suggestion that a breakthrough is in the offing.

“It is encouraging that our economic recovery is lifting Americans out of poverty and boosting wages,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader. “But instead of building on this progress, Washington Republicans want to turn back the clock.”

Republicans responded in kind, presenting the data as evidence Democrats should step aside.

“Today’s report is another disappointing confirmation that too many Americans are still struggling to provide for their families and reach their full potential,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “The federal government invests billions of dollars each year in programs to help low-income Americans, but more than 43 million people continue to live in poverty.”

The distribution of income in the United States remains tilted toward the affluent. Last year’s gains by lower-income households were not enough to shift measures of income inequality.
The data also was a mixed bag for minority groups. Poverty rates fell most sharply for African-American and Hispanic households, but their income gains were smaller than for white households.

“One good year does not reverse decades of stagnation,” Mr. Bernstein said. “Middle- and low-income households need a lot more than one good year. We need to keep this going.”

Greek Economy Grows Unexpectedly in Second Quarter

http://www.wsj.com/articles/greek-budget-revenues-miss-target-by-40-in-july-1439454276

ATHENS—Greece’s economy grew unexpectedly in the second quarter of the year on the back of a strong start to the tourism season and resilient consumption, data from the Greek statistics agency showed Thursday.

Seasonally adjusted gross domestic product rose 0.8% from the first quarter, when economic growth was revised up to zero by the Hellenic Statistical Authority, or Elstat. Economists were expecting economic output to drop by as much as 0.6% for the April to June period amid uncertainty caused by ongoing bailout talks with the country’s lenders.

“The surprise is partly explained by some consumption indices, such as retail sales, that were in positive territory in the second quarter and this was helped by some improvement in the labor market,” said Nikos Magginas, a senior economist at National Bank of Greece. “There was also a very strong positive impact from tourism, which is having increasing knock on effects on the economy.”

ENLARGE

On an annual basis, Greek economic output in the second quarter rose 1.4%, Elstat said in a news release.

Greece and its international creditors expect the economy to contract by 2.3% this year after exiting a six year recession in 2014 and growing by 0.8%

The second-quarter data measures Greece’s economic performance before the imposition of capital controls for July that brought Greece to a standstill, sending some parts of the economy into a tailspin.

Data showed Thursday, with revenue falling 40% short of target in July. Budget revenues for the first seven months of the year reached €26.7 billion ($29.7 million), compared with the target of €30.8 billion, the Finance ministry said in a statement.

Many consumers, households and businesses put off making payments in July to preserve cash as withdrawal limits from banks were severely limited.

However, budget outlays for the January-July period were less than expected, reaching €27.7 billion compared with the €32.2 billion target, resulting in a small budget deficit. The total budget deficit for the seven months came in at €1.02 billion, versus the €1.37 billion estimate.

Spending on large ticket items also plummeted last month, with new car sales falling 23.9% to 8,181 in the steepest drop in more than two years, according to earlier figures from Elstat.

Business leaders and economists say that the sooner a final bailout agreement is signed, the sooner the economy will be able to recover.

Later Thursday, or in the early morning hours of Friday, Greek lawmakers are expected to vote on a third bailout worth up to €86 billion.