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The spirits of the hills: Oconee County’s first legal distillery in a century to open

The spirits of the hills: Oconee County’s first legal distillery in a century to open

The spirits of the hills: Oconee County’s first legal distillery in a century to open

LONG CREEK — “The water of life,” the early Irish monks who learned to distill fermented grain mash supposedly called it.

By the time the Irish, the Scots and the Scot-Irish brought the making of it to the Appalachian Mountains of the American colonies, it had been whiskey for a long time and it flowed out of the hills and into legend as an inseparable part of the American culture.

Armed resistance to a tax on it gave the young American republic its first test. George Washington, after retiring as the new nation’s first president, developed the first large-scale whiskey distillery in the country.

As the years passed, whiskey continued to flow from the hills, but mostly as illegal booze. The western corner of South Carolina, “the Dark Corner,” would become famous for it.

Today, craft distilleries are on the rise.

On May 13 and 14, Ed and Kitty Land will hold a grand opening of the Chattooga Belle Farm Distillery, Oconee County’s first legal distillery in about a century.

Most days, Ed Land can be found in his distillery off Damascus Church Road. With a helper, he prepares mash, tests the whiskies and brandies aging in oak barrels, and bottles the finished spirits.

The distillery is the latest addition to the Chattooga Belle Farm, established by the Lands about a decade ago on 138 acres of rolling apple orchard that was once owned by a group that included the late comedic legend Groucho Marx.

The Lands still grow apples, peaches, muscadines, blueberries and others fruits. The farm’s bistro and facilities for hosting events such as weddings have been lauded in regional publications, as has its disc golf course.

It was the fruit-growing, though, that made distilling seem a natural next step. Chattooga Belle Farm had been marketing its own wines for several years, but with that and the u-pick-it selling operation, there was still fruit leftover.

“I like doing new and creative things here at the farm,” Land said. “Fruit was going to waste, so I thought about distilling it.”

A micro-distilling course for Ed and Kitty in Kentucky made the idea seem not so far-fetched.

“I was sure we could take our muscadines and turn them into moonshine,” Land said.

A truck and equipment storage barn became the distillery, fitted with a 210-gallon pot still and a column still, and mash tuns that were originally dairy tanks. Some of the white oak barrels for aging come from the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Tennessee. Others are made especially for the Chattooga Belle Farm Distillery.

It was muscadine and apple brandies, not whiskey, that were the first to flow from Land’s stills. MuscaShine is the pure muscadine brandy. He also made Cinnamon Stick, a muscadine/apple brandy blend aged with cinnamon sticks in the barrel. Oconee Belle is the same blend aged with Madagascar vanilla bourbon beans. Campfire is the muscadine/apple blend aged with charred white oak chips.

Such variety is a trademark of craft distillers.

Ed Land didn’t have to look far to see the prospects for unique offerings.

“The fruits for our brandies are grown here, they’re harvested here, they’re distilled here, they’re aged here and they’re sold here,” said Land. “I don’t know of any other distillery that does that.”

The art of the modern craft distiller blends the centuries-old art of making and aging distilled spirits with the search for something new and innovative to offer. And for Land, one such work in progress rests in at least one barrel on the floor of the still house.

“This is going to be our next offering,” he said, removing the bung from the barrel.

A subtle but clear flavor of juniper, other herbal flavors, and a strong flavor of apples.

“We call it Apple-A-Gin, like Appalachian,” he said.

Compared to the giants such as Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam in Kentucky and others, craft distillers are small businesses. But together they can make a big impact.

There are 31 licensed craft distillers in South Carolina, from the coast to the mountains, according to the State Department of Revenue.

The fledging industry is so new the state has no numbers of economic impact as a whole. But the 40 micro-breweries and brew pubs in South Carolina add about $443 million to the state’s economy, including the creation of about 3,000 jobs.

These businesses also court visitors, especially when coupled with an agribusiness venture. Oconee officials courting both visitors and business have their eyes on Chattooga Belle Farm as one of the county’s newest draws.

“Distilleries, wineries and micro-breweries have become major tourism destinations, especially in western North Carolina,” said Ken Sloan, executive director of Oconee County’s Mountain Lakes Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I am extremely excited about having this new development in Oconee.”

So while a lot of eyes are on him, Ed Land’s eyes are most often on his bubbling, fermenting mashes. His thoughts are on getting ready for the distillery’s grand opening, a gala affair that will include music and tastings.

“Every batch is going to be unique in some way,” Land said of his concoctions. “And each time, every day, you try to make it the best.”

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Immigrants in U.S. Illegally Are Given a Shot to Return to Their Professions Under California Law

Immigrants in U.S. Illegally Are Given a Shot to Return to Their Professions Under California Law

Immigrants in U.S. Illegally Are Given a Shot to Return to Their Professions Under California Law

In Mexico, Marco Nava was a trained cosmetologist working in a salon. He specialized in hair styling and coloring. But for eight of the nine years since he came to the United States illegally, he toiled in the shadows, working as a field hand-harvesting grapes near Porterville.

These days, Nava is back in an air-conditioned barbershop doing what he loves thanks to a year-old California law that allows immigrants in the U.S. illegally to apply for state licenses as barbers, cosmetologists, auto mechanics, security guards and other professions.

The law also covers professionals including doctors, nurses, psychologists and pharmacists.

“It was a way for me to come out of hiding,” said Nava, 32. “I no longer have to wake up at 4 in the morning to do something that is not my profession. Now I can take care of my kids, bring them to school and do something that I love doing.”

More than 300 people had applied for professional licenses from the state under a unique process outlined in the new law, which was written by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), whose parents were at one time in the U.S. illegally before they became citizens.

“Where someone was born does not dictate their potential to contribute to our workforce and grow our economy,” Lara said. “We have the largest immigrant population in the country, and we are the eighth-largest economy in the world. In California, we know that integration works.”

California has led the nation in adopting laws aimed at easing the assimilation of those in the U.S. illegally, previously allowing such people to get driver’s licenses, college financial aid, and law licenses.

Advocates for strict immigration enforcement, including William Gheen, said the state cannot adopt measures that conflict with federal laws that make it illegal to hire someone who is not in the country legally — or even help them get a job.

“California lawmakers should be focused on helping the American citizens they have sworn to serve instead of illegal invaders that take U.S. jobs and taxpayer resources and corrupt our elections,” said Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee.

California’s workforce includes 1.85 million people in the U.S. illegally, according to an estimate by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Until Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new law, professionals in California had to obtain licenses by submitting their Social Security numbers as proof of citizenship.

The law allows the state’s 40 licensing boards to accept a federal taxpayer identification number, which those working in the country illegally can obtain in lieu of a Social Security number.

The most sought-after licenses so far are for barbering and cosmetology, which had 151 applicants. Second was cemetery operator licenses, which saw 36 applicants, followed by security guard licenses, which drew 32 applications.

There were 24 applicants for automobile repair licenses, 15 for registered nurses, 14 for vocational nurses and seven for dental hygienists. Five people applied for dental licenses. No one has yet sought a license to work as a physician.

Lara said many of the professionals getting state licenses were already doing the work in California, but without state permits and the training required to make sure they do their jobs in ways that do not jeopardize public health.

“By improving access to professional licenses we will increase tax revenues, utilize an untapped worker population and promote stronger communities,” Lara said.

To obtain a professional license, workers must undergo training and pass a test showing that they know how to operate safely with proper hygiene and sanitation so the public is protected, said Julie Landeros, an administrator at the state-licensed Cosmetica Cosmetology and Barbering Apprenticeship Program in Downey.

“It’s amazing,” she said of the new law, “because before there were a lot of undocumented people doing this work already. Now these people can be regulated.”

The training program’s students include Nancy Gonzalez, 35, of San Fernando, who said she was grateful for the ability to get a state license even though she is in the U.S. illegally.

Gonzalez and Nava said it also helps their businesses to be able to show clients a state license.

“I feel free,” Gonzalez said in Spanish, with Landeros translating. “I am happy because I can now help my family, my husband in a much better way without fear that an inspector can come in at any time and give me a $1,000 fine for working without a license.”

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North Carolina Republicans Vow To Defy Feds On Bathroom Law

North Carolina Republicans Vow To Defy Feds On Bathroom Law

North Carolina Republicans Vow To Defy Feds On Bathroom Law

The lawmakers say they won’t be “bullied” into meeting the U.S. Justice Department’s Monday deadline to change the law.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) – North Carolina Republicans Vow To Defy Feds On Bathroom Law. They refused to back down from a law regulating which restrooms can be used by transgender people after the federal government told the state the law violated the U.S. Civil Rights Act.

The state’s leading Republican lawmaker, House Speaker Tim Moore, told reporters in Raleigh that North Carolina would not be “bullied” into meeting the U.S. Justice Department’s Monday deadline to change the law.

North Carolina is the first U.S. state to pass a law requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate instead of the gender with which they identify.

Republican legislators in several other states have proposed similar laws, making transgender rights a hot-button social issue in an election year.

The Justice Department’s challenge is similarly unprecedented, though the agency has in the past intervened on behalf of transgender individuals who have alleged discrimination.

The Republican National Committee urged state legislators in January to resist federal policies that allow transgender people to use restrooms of their choice at public schools.

The Justice Department said in letters to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and other state officials on Wednesday that the state had until Monday to decided if it would stop discriminating against transgender state employees.

McCrory affirmed his support for the “very common-sense rule” before a group of business leaders on Wednesday night but said he did not know if the state would fight the Justice Department. His office did not respond to questions on Thursday.

If McCrory does not stand down from enforcing the law, the Justice Department’s civil rights division could push for a court order. If a federal judge sides with the agency, North Carolina would have to comply or face a reduction in federal funding.

On Thursday, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger’s spokeswoman, Amy Auth, said state lawyers were reviewing the letter. Berger on Wednesday said the department’s position represented “a gross overreach.”

North Carolina’s Secretary of Public Safety and officials at the University of North Carolina also received similar letters on Wednesday.

Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina system, said her office would respond to the department’s letter by the deadline.

“We take this determination seriously and will be conferring with the Governor’s Office, legislative leaders, and counsel about next steps,” she said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson would not say whether the department would take legal action against the state.

The state law is being challenged in federal court by critics including the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

“We’ve never before seen a state do something as aggressive as require mandatory discrimination against its own transgender employees,” said Peter Renn, an attorney with Lambda Legal, in a phone interview with Reuters.

Jillian Weiss, an attorney who has argued in federal court for transgender rights, said the Justice Department’s action against North Carolina showed the federal government was willing to intervene when states passed laws reducing rights based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Weiss predicts Mississippi, where a law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay people takes effect in July, will be the department’s next target.

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Workplace Drug Test Policies Unaffected by Legalized Marijuana

Workplace Drug Test Policies Unaffected by Legalized Marijuana

Workplace Drug Test Policies Unaffected by Legalized Marijuana

Is a candidate thinking about sparking one up before starting a new job? They might want to reconsider!

Legal experts agree that no matter how many places legalize marijuana, the American workforce should expect it to be regulated in a way similar to alcohol when it comes to their employers.

Whether you believe mandatory drug and alcohol testing promotes workplace safety and protects the company, or that it violates privacy and promotes discrimination, one thing is clear: the company will protect itself at all costs.

The tricky thing about Marijuana is that, unlike alcohol, there isn’t a test to measure the level of impairment as is the case with a breathalyzer. In most cases an organization will opt for a zero-tolerance policy to mitigate any risk, and as the US District Court for the District of New Mexico proved just a few short weeks ago, medical marijuana laws will not typically include requirements mandating that employers accommodate medical marijuana cardholders.

New Mexico isn’t the only place either. Before this one, there have been similar cases in California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington.

So how is it that despite laws like New Mexico’s Compassionate Use Act being passed, companies are still being sided with when presented with wrongful termination suits? It’s relatively simple: The Federal Controlled Substances Act still prohibits marijuana and supercedes limited state-law immunity.

Being that 23 states and Washington DC have now legalized medical marijuana, the challenge is for companies to protect themselves should they be caught between state and federal laws.


What makes the USA think they have a right to violate International Law and put boots on the ground in Syria?

International Law

International Law

Residents and local administration officials in the northern Syrian town of Al-Hasakah rallied on Wednesday to protest against the illegal presence of 150 US troops in the Kurdish-controlled town of Rumeilan, Syrian SANA news agency reported.

“We are categorically against the impermissible and flagrant violation of our country’s sovereignty. We will not allow American boots on our soil. We are also against any plans for a division or federalization of Syria,” Al-Hasakah Governor Mohammad Zaal said during the meeting.

A similar rally had earlier been held in the neighboring town of Al-Qamishli.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry called the reported deployment of 150 US troops to Rumeilan airport in the northeast of the country “an unacceptable and illegal intervention” which came without authorization from the Syrian government.

On April 28, US President Barack Obama announced that Washington would “deploy up to 250 additional US personnel in Syria including Special Forces.” They are reportedly expected to train the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The White House asserts that the deployment of the Special Forces is intended to repel Daesh terrorists.

On Wednesday, about 150 US soldiers arrived in the Kurdish-controlled town of Rumeilan in northeastern Syria, according to a Kurdish security source. According to the source, part of the contingent immediately headed to the north of Raqqa province.

Meanwhile, a 28-year-old US Army officer has sued President Barack Obama over the legality of the war against the Islamic State (Daesh), questioning Mr. Obama’s disputed claim that he needs no new legal authority from Congress to order the military to wage the ever deepening mission, The New York Times wrote on Wednesday.

Captain Nathan Michael Smith, an intelligence officer stationed in Kuwait, voiced strong support for fighting Daesh but, citing his “conscience” and his vow to uphold the Constitution, he said he believed that the mission lacked proper authorization from Congress.

The legal challenge comes after the death of the third American serviceman in the fight against Daesh and as President Obama has decided to significantly expand the number of Special Forces members.

President Obama has argued that he already has the authority he needs to wage a conflict against the Islamic State under the authorization to fight the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, enacted by Congress shortly after the attacks.

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All Your Questions About Bank Secrecy Law, Answered

Bank Secrecy Law

Bank Secrecy Law

What is it? What awaits violators of the law? What types of accounts are covered? Is yours safe?

Former US Ambassador to the Philippines Francis Ricciardone noted in his January 2005 cable that the bank secrecy laws of the Philippines are “among the strictest in the world.” This means that bank accounts in the country can only be opened in cases of violation of the Anti Money-Laundering Act.

Prior to this, there had already been a movement toward a more transparent bank law, especially for individuals working in the public sector. This is because investigations involving accused corrupt public officials through lifestyle check and their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) would be so much easier if we had a fair Bank Secrecy Law.

Here are some of the things you need to know about it:

1. What is the Law on Secrecy of Bank Deposits?

According to Republic Act (RA) No. 1405 Section 2, “All deposits of whatever nature with banks or banking institutions in the Philippines including investments in bonds issued by the Government of the Philippines, its political subdivisions, and its instrumentalities, are hereby considered as of an absolutely confidential nature and may not be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office.”

Exceptions include “written permission of the depositor, or in cases of impeachment, or upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials, or in cases where the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of the litigation.”

Deposits may only be disclosed if a bank account is being investigated in court. This is also extended in the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines, or FCDA, also known as Republic Act No. 6426. Foreign currency accounts may not be disclosed, except upon a written permission of the depositor.

Section 3 also states that “It shall be unlawful for any official or employee of a banking institution to disclose to any person other than those mentioned in Section two hereof any information concerning said deposits.”

2. What will happen to any violation of the Law on Secrecy of Bank Deposits?

Section 5 of the RA states that violators will be subject to “conviction, to an imprisonment of not more than five years or a fine of not more than P20,000, or both, at the discretion of the court.”

3. What accounts are covered in the secrecy law?

Savings account, checking account, and other types of bank deposits are included in the secrecy law. Money markets, trust funds, mutual funds, and the like are not covered.

4. If someone purportedly gained access to an individual’s bank account, does that mean the bank involved isn’t safe? Should I withdraw all my money from the said account and move it to another bank?

Bank employees can see some bank accounts in the system. What’s important is that they don’t disclose the information they see to anyone.

In the event of data breach, it is best to move your deposits to a bank with stronger data protection in place.

5. What happens when the depositor dies and the spouse or dependent requests to withdraw the funds?

Upon knowing of the depositor’s death, Section 97 of the Tax Code allows banks to freeze the deceased depositor’s account until the Estate Tax Clearance from the BIR is submitted. This applies to both individual or joint accounts. The withdrawal will only be granted if the Estate Tax has been paid.

The deposit is considered tax-exempt if it’s P200,000 or below, and the spouse or dependent only needs to submit documents such as marriage certificate, birth certificate, and certificate of deposit (e.g. a passbook) to withdraw the account. However, if the amount deposited is more than P200,000, it is subject to Estate Tax, and the spouse or dependent is mandated by law to pay a certain percentage of the amount deposited. When it’s paid, a Certificate of Tax Clearance will be provided to the spouse or dependent. It should be submitted along with the Deed of Extra-Judicial Settlement of the Estate, and other document requirements stipulated by the bank.

6. What has been done toward a more transparent investigation for public officials’ bank deposits?

At the height of the Bangladesh stolen government funds worth some $81 million, vice presidential candidate Senator Francis Escudero urged fellow public officials to sign a waiver or written permission to the Office of the Ombudsman to grant permission into all bank deposits and other investments, within and outside the country.

This is in support of Senate Bill No. 16 he filed in 2016, which makes lifestyle checks mandatory for public officials and employees. They will be required to sign a waiver for the transparency of their bank accounts.