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Rochelle Riley: Older Detroit retirees deserve more in settlement - Detroit Free Press

Berkley Information from Google News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 11:44pm


Madame Noire

Rochelle Riley: Older Detroit retirees deserve more in settlement
Detroit Free Press
All through Detroit's historic bankruptcy proceedings, pensioners have commanded the most sympathy. Retirees too old to ever re-enter the workforce, facing reductions in their meager checks, have become the collective face of the pension crisis ...
ILLEGAL DETROIT BANKRUPTCY PLAN: VOTE NO! CANCEL THE DEBT TO ...voiceofdetroit
Stryker of the Detroit Free Press talks DIA art and bankruptcyMichigan Radio
Detroit not safe yetToledo Blade

all 19 news articles »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Thursday's high schools roundup: Notre Dame Prep baseball edges UD Jesuit in ... - The Detroit News

Berkley Information from Google News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 11:10pm


Thursday's high schools roundup: Notre Dame Prep baseball edges UD Jesuit in ...
The Detroit News
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep pushed its winning streak to five after escaping Thursday with a pair of one-run victories over host Detroit U-D Jesuit in a Catholic League crossover baseball doubleheader, prevailing 8-7 in nine innings and 4-3 in a five ...

and more »

Categories: Berkley Area News

Democrats Who Move Right Lose Elections - There Is No "Center"

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 11:03pm

Mainstream Democratic campaign consultants and pollsters typically tell candidates they should "move to the right" and campaign to the "center" with positions that are "between" the "left" and the "right." This is the way, they say, to "attract swing voters" who would be "scared off" by a candidate who takes populist positions that favor the interests of the 99 percent over the interests of the 1 percent.

Polling and experience show that exactly the opposite might be true.

This week Lynn Vavrek writes at the New York Times Upshot blog, in "The Myth of Swing Voters in Midterm Elections":

There just aren't that many swing voters. ... Ultimately voters tend to come home to their favored party. There are relatively few voters who cross back and forth between the parties during a campaign or even between elections.
Looking at the Democrat loss in the 2010 election, this is the key:

The results clearly show that voters in 2010 did not abandon the Democrats for the other side, but they did forsake the party in another important way: Many stayed home.

Again: In 2010 "swing" voters did not "shift" toward Republicans. What happened was that Democrats stayed home.

2011 Pew Poll: Independents Aren't 'Centrists'

Who are the "independent" voters? In 2011 The Washington Post's "The Fix" looked at a Pew Research Center poll. In the post, "The misunderstood independent," Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza wrote (emphasis added)

In politics, it's often tempting to put independents somewhere in the middle of Republicans and Democrats, politically. They identify somewhere in between the two, so they must be moderates, right?

A new study from the Pew Research Center suggests that's not so true anymore. Independents, in fact, are a fast-growing and increasingly diverse group that both parties are going to need to study and understand in the years ahead.

. . . Pew identifies three different kinds of independents. Libertarians and Disaffecteds are 21 percent of registered voters and lean towards Republicans; Post-Moderns are 14 percent and lean towards Democrats.

A look at their views on issues shows those three groups can often be among the most extreme on a given topic.

Disaffecteds, for example, believe in helping the needy more than most Democrats. Libertarians side with business more than even the solidly Republican Staunch Conservatives. And Post-Moderns accept homosexuality more than most Democrats. The three independents groups are also less religious, on the whole, than either Republicans or most Democrats.

In other words, polling shows that many "independents" are to the left of Democrats and many others are to the right of Republicans. They are not "in the middle" or "between" but rather are more likely to stay home and not vote for candidates who move "to the middle." Those independents to the right of Republicans are not going to vote for Democrats no matter how far "to the right" the Democratic candidate goes.

2010 PPP Poll: The Independents Who Stayed Home

In 2010 Greg Sargent wrote at the Washington Post's Plum Line blog, "Progressives and centrists battle over meaning of indy vote" (emphasis added):

Independents are not a monolith, and what really happened is that indys who backed Obama in 2008 stayed home, because they were unsatisfied with Obama's half-baked reform agenda, while McCain-supporting indys turned out in big numbers.

. . . The key finding: PPP asked independents who did vote in 2010 who they had supported in 2008. The results: Fifty one percent of independents who voted this time supported McCain last time, versus only 42 percent who backed Obama last time. In 2008, Obama won indies by eight percent.

That means the complexion of indies who turned out this time is far different from last time around, argues Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. His case: Dem-leaning indys stayed home this time while GOP-leaning ones came out -- proof, he insists, that the Dems' primary problem is they failed to inspire indys who are inclined to support them.

"The dumbest thing Democrats could do right now is listen to those like Third Way who urge Democrats to repeat their mistake by caving to Republicans and corporations instead of fighting boldly for popular progressive reforms and reminding Americans why they were inspired in 2008," Green says.

March Florida Special Election

In the March special election in Florida's 13th District, the Republican candidate strongly embraced the values of "the base" while the Democratic candidate took "centrist" positions, even embracing austerity and cuts to Social Security - in Florida. In Did Dems Have A Reason To Show Up And Vote In Florida House Race? I wrote about what happened, but in summary, R's voted and Dems stayed home.

The Republican won by about 3,400 votes out of about 183,000 votes cast. Turnout was 58 percent in precincts Romney won in 2012, and 48.5 percent in precincts Obama won in 2012. There were 49,000 fewer people who voted in this election than in the 2010 general mid-term election (down 21 percent), and 158,500 fewer than in the 2012 Presidential (down 46 percent). So it was the failure to get Democratic voters to show up that lost them the election.
The Republicans ran "the furthest right a GOP candidate had run in the area" in 60 years. Meanwhile the Democrat tried to "reach across the aisle" to bring in "centrist" and "moderate" voters, and emphasized "cutting wasteful government spending" and "introducing performance metrics to hold government accountable for waste and abuse and creating the right fiscal environment for businesses to create jobs."

Again, the Republican campaigned to the right, the Democrat campaigned "in the middle." The result: Republicans showed up to vote, Democrats stayed home.

What The Heck Do "Centrist" And "The Middle" Even Mean?

Think about the words we use to describe voters and policy positions. "Left," "right," "between," "center" and "swing" force the brain to visualize policy positions as endpoints on a straight line. The visualization forces people to imagine a "centrist" that is someone who holds positions that are somewhere "in the middle" and "between" the policy positions that are these endpoints. There is a bulk of voters who are imagined to "swing" from the positions on these endpoints, who are looking for politicians who don't go "too far" in any policy direction. Politicians can "attract" these "swing" voters by taking positions that are "between" the endpoints.

But polling and experience tell us:

1) There are very few actual "independent voters." Instead there are lots of voters who agree with the left or agree with the right, but are further to the left or right and so do not register as Democrats or Republicans.

2) There is no "swing voter" block "between" the parties. There are different groups of voters who decide to vote or stay home. No conservative "independent" who is to the right of the Republican party will vote for any Democrat, no matter how far right they move. All that moving to the right accomplishes is to cause many Democratic "base" voters to hold their noses if they do vote, and possibly just stay away from the polls.

Karl Rove got this. He understood that you can get the right-wing voters roused up to come to the polls by moving Republican politicians to the right. Instead of "moving to the center" he got Bush and the Republicans to stand up for conservative principles and refuse to compromise, and the result was that more of "the base" enthusiastically showed up at the polls.

Conclusion: You Have To Deliver For And Campaign To Your Base Or They Don't Show Up

Here is what is very important to understand about the "swing" vote: Few voters "switch." That is the wrong lesson. There are not voters who "swing," there are left voters and right voters who either show up and vote or do not show up and vote.

The lesson to learn: You have to deliver for and campaign to YOUR "base" voters or they don't show up and vote for you. If Democrats don't give regular, working people -- the Democratic base -- a reason to vote, then many of them won't.

To learn what the American voter wants, please visit Populist Majority, Exposing the gulf between American opinion and conventional wisdom.

-----

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary
Click to follow me on Twitter. --- Click to follow CAF on Twitter.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Marshall Islands Sues 9 Of The World's Nuclear Powers In International Court

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 9:04pm

NEW YORK (AP) — The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands is taking on the United States and the world's eight other nuclear-armed nations with an unprecedented lawsuit demanding that they meet their obligations toward disarmament and accusing them of "flagrant violations" of international law.

The island group that was used for dozens of U.S. nuclear tests after World War II filed suit Thursday against each of the nine countries in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It also filed a federal lawsuit against the United States in San Francisco, naming President Barack Obama, the departments and secretaries of defense and energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration. The Marshall Islands claims the nine countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals instead of negotiating disarmament, and it estimates that they will spend $1 trillion on those arsenals over the next decade.

"I personally see it as kind of David and Goliath, except that there are no slingshots involved," David Krieger, president of the California-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told The Associated Press. He is acting as a consultant in the case. There are hopes that other countries will join the legal effort, he said.

The countries targeted also include Russia, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. The last four are not parties to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but the lawsuits argue they are bound by its provisions under "customary international law." The nonproliferation treaty, considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament efforts, requires negotiations among countries in good faith on disarmament.

None of the countries had been informed in advance of the lawsuits.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said he was unaware of the lawsuit, however "it doesn't sound relevant because we are not members of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty."

"It sounds like it doesn't have any legal legs," he said about the lawsuit, adding that he was not a legal expert.

The Marshall Islands were the site of 67 nuclear tests by the United States over a 12-year period, with lasting health and environmental impacts.

"Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities," the country's foreign minister, Tony de Brum, said in a statement announcing the lawsuits.

The country is seeking action, not compensation. It wants the courts to require that the nine nuclear-armed states meet their obligations.

"There hasn't been a case where individual governments are saying to the nuclear states, 'You are not complying with your disarmament obligations," John Burroughs, executive director of the New York-based Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, part of the international pro bono legal team, told the AP. "This is a contentious case that could result in a binding judgment."

Several Nobel Peace Prize winners are said to support the legal action, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Iranian-born rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi.

"We must ask why these leaders continue to break their promises and put their citizens and the world at risk of horrific devastation," Tutu said in the statement announcing the legal action.

The Marshall Islands is asking the countries to accept the International Court of Justice's jurisdiction in this case and explain their positions on the issue.

The court has seen cases on nuclear weapons before. In the 1970s, Australia and New Zealand took France to the court in an effort to stop its atmospheric nuclear tests in the Pacific.

The idea to challenge the nine nuclear-armed powers came out of a lunch meeting in late 2012 after the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation gave the Marshall Islands foreign minister a leadership award, Krieger said.

"I've known Tony long time," he said. "We both have had a strong interest for a long time in seeing action by the nuclear weapons states."

Frustration with the nuclear-armed states has grown in recent years as action toward disarmament appeared to stall, Burroughs and Krieger said.

"One thing I would point to is the U.S. withdrawal in 2002 from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; that cast a shadow over future disarmament movement," Krieger said. The treaty originally had bound the U.S. and the Soviet Union. "One other thing, in 1995, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty had a review and was extended indefinitely. I think the nuclear states party to the treaty felt that once that happened, there was no longer pressure on them to fulfill their obligations."

In 1996, the International Court of Justice said unanimously that an obligation existed to bring the disarmament negotiations to a conclusion, Burroughs said.

Instead, "progress toward disarmament has essentially been stalemated since then," he said.

Some of the nuclear-armed countries might argue in response to these new lawsuits that they've been making progress in certain areas or that they support the start of negotiations toward disarmament, but the Marshall Islands government is likely to say, "Good, but not enough" or "Your actions belie your words," Burroughs said.

The Marshall Islands foreign minister has approached other countries about filing suit as well, Krieger said. "I think there has been some interest, but I'm not sure anybody is ready."

_____

Associated Press reporters Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

In <i>Schuette</i>, Roberts Continues Legacy of Bringing the Court Into the 21st Century

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:49pm

In thinking about the Supreme Court, I'm reminded of the scene from this week's episode of Game of Thrones where Tywin Lannister asks the next king, who will absolutely be killed before the season is over, what makes a good king. The boy struggles to get to the correct answer: wisdom.

For Chief Justice John Roberts, who is like the Queen Mum of the Supreme Court, wisdom isn't enough; it usually comes down to legacy. There have only been 17 chief justices in the history of the court, and some are certainly better than others. John Marshall was influential in laying the groundwork for stare decisis and judicial review, Harlan Stone brought the court into the modern commercial world with the International Shoe decision, Earl Warren steered the ship of civil rights cases in the '50s and '60s, and Warren Burger stood up for the system of checks and balances and against executive-branch malfeasance. Naturally, John Roberts' legacy has already been discussed because he is the first chief justice of the social media era. I contend that much like that of Chief Justice Stone, Roberts' legacy will be one of modernization of the Supreme Court, and it happened again this week in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

In Schuette the question was whether or not voters could opt out of a program that considers race as a factor in admissions to public colleges and universities. The 6-2 decision, with Justice Stephen Breyer joining the conservative group, upheld citizens' right in this particular matter.

Despite Justice Sonia Sotomayor saying this is tantamount to stacking the deck against minorities, the numbers simply do not bear out the necessity for affirmative action anymore. Since 1985 the percentage of black high-school graduates attending college has gone up from 40 percent to 55 percent, with Hispanic students seeing a similar increase. Most of this increase occurred in the 1990s as a direct result of affirmative action, but it's insulting to say these students would not have gone to college anyway. They might have gone to a lower-ranked college, but some argue that that might actually help minority students by choosing the best school for them, not simply the best school they get into.

But more importantly, this decision has shown the willingness of the Roberts court to take a new look at the data and update jurisprudence for the 21st century. It's important to note that this had nothing to do with the constitutionality of affirmative action, just the constitutionality of not allowing affirmative action.

This was at play in the much-maligned Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, where the Roberts court recognized the changing nature of political speech, which is no longer relegated to the flag burnings and sit-ins of the '70s. More importantly, since both cases came after 2008, the Roberts court recognized that the money being spent in politics had increased so much in spite of the McCain-Feingold Act and the aggregate spending limit, so the justification simply was no longer there. Stare decisis requires the court to look back at precedent, but it doesn't require the court to ignore the present. Both cases came after the 2008 election, where the first presidential candidate since Richard Nixon to spurn public financing, Barack Obama, raised more than $650 million, and the entire election cycle saw over $5 billion spent.

The same can be said for the Shelby County decision, where the Roberts court invalidated the outdated math of Section IV of the Voting Rights Act. Mind you, they didn't ban preclearance; they merely said that using 1950s data for 2014 enforcement is wrong. They also looked at states like Georgia and Indiana, where minority voting increased after voter ID laws were passed. Why they turned out is wholly irrelevant to the fact that they weren't prohibited from turning out. Once again, the Roberts court established its legacy of looking at the present, not the past, when deciding on the propriety of laws.

Unfortunately, the Roberts court is still stuck in the past on criminal protections, as seen in the Fernandez decision.

The true test of Roberts' legacy will be how he guides the court on the eventual NSA spying cases, which will come before him in the next few years. Ideally, Roberts will mold the rulings in the same vein as Shelby, looking at the reality of spying, technology, and civil liberties in 2014 and beyond, not to how the court ruled in the 1980s. Otherwise, we could be faced with drones flying overhead and the NSA listening to every call, because the founders only had a vague notion of what electricity is, let alone a global telecommunications network.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Obama Fails To Clinch Trade Deal As Japan Trip Wraps Up

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:46pm


By Antoni Slodkowski and Matt Spetalnick

TOKYO, April 25 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama neared the end of a state visit to Japan on Friday during which he assured America's close ally that Washington would come to its defence but failed to clinch a trade deal vital to his promised "pivot" to Asia.

Failure to reach a trade deal has delayed a joint statement on security and economic ties that Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were expected to issue after their summit on Thursday. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters the joint document was in the final stages of being worked out.

Obama and Abe had ordered their top aides to make a final push to reach a trade agreement but Economy Minister Akira Amari told reporters on Friday that gaps remained despite recent progress.

"This time we can't say there's a basic agreement," Amari told reporters after a second day of almost around-the-clock talks failed to settle differences over farm products and cars.

"Overall, the gaps are steadily narrowing," he said.

Tokyo had said the meeting was an "important juncture" for a bilateral deal, which would in turn be central to a delayed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.

The TPP is high on Abe's economic reform agenda and central to Obama's policy of expanding the U.S. presence in Asia.

Obama, who ends his three-day Japan state visit early on Friday and heads for South Korea, assured Japan that Washington was committed to its defence, including over tiny isles at the heart of a row with China, but denied he had drawn any new "red line" and urged peaceful dialogue over the dispute.

Domestic media said Tokyo was keen to incorporate the comments - which drew a swift rebuke from China - into the broader joint statement between the allies.

China also claims sovereignty over the Japanese-controlled islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

Obama confirmed at a news conference on Thursday the U.S. position that, while Washington takes no stance on the sovereignty of the East China Sea isles, they fall under the scope of a U.S.-Japan treaty that obligates America to defend its ally.

A U.S. official declined to comment on Japanese media reports that said U.S. negotiators had held the joint statement "hostage" in an effort to force Japan to make concessions on trade. But there was a sense of U.S. frustration building on Thursday over the inability to narrow gaps on trade.

Obama, at the start of a four-nation tour, has been treated to a display of pomp and ceremony meant to show that the U.S.-Japan alliance, the main pillar of America's security strategy in Asia, is solid at a time of rising tensions over growing Chinese assertiveness and North Korean nuclear threats.

The diplomatic challenge for Obama during his week-long, four-nation regional tour is to convince Asian partners that Washington is serious about its promised strategic pivot, while at the same time not harming U.S. ties with China, the world's second-biggest economy.

Beijing has painted the "pivot" as effort to contain the rising Asian power. (Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Paul Tait)

Categories: Political News and Opinion

California Lawmakers Aim To Tighten Handgun Restrictions

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:13pm


By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. April 24 (Reuters) - A bill banning the sale of single-shot handguns that can be modified into semi-automatic weapons advanced in the California legislature on Thursday as lawmakers sought to close what the bill's supporters say is a loophole in the state's gun safety laws.

Gun control advocates say thousands of weapons are sold in California each year without a required safety feature that indicates when a bullet is in the chamber, endangering children and others who may be shot accidentally.

"Right now there is a very large opening in the law that permits guns that otherwise we wouldn't consider safe for sale and purchase in California," said Sacramento assemblyman Roger Dickinson, a Democrat who authored the bill.

Under existing law, semi-automatic weapons must have an indicator showing when there is a bullet in the chamber. But many manufacturers do not include the feature, leading some dealers to convert guns to single-shot weapons before selling them, just to change them back later, Dickinson said.

The most populous U.S. state has some of the nation's strictest gun control laws, and Dickinson's measure is the latest of dozens of bills introduced in the state in the wake of mass shootings in 2012 in Colorado and Connecticut.

Last fall, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who has tacked to the center despite large Democratic majorities in the legislature, vetoed several of the bills, rebuffing efforts by fellow Democrats to enact a sweeping expansion of firearms regulation.

The proposed ban on converted semi-automatics without the safety feature is a priority for the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, said the group's legislative expert, Amanda Wilcox.

The loophole was created after single-shot weapons were exempted from the safety requirement to protect collectors of antique guns, Dickinson said.

After the rule went into effect in 2007, the number of guns being sold as single-shot weapons in the state skyrocketed, which Dickinson said indicated many were being converted.

In 2013, more than 18,000 single-shot gun sales were registered in the state, up from 134 in 2007, the state says. But Assemblyman Brian Jones, a San Diego-area Republican who voted against the bill, said that doesn't mean all purchasers are trying to get around the law.

The National Rifle Association said the measure would hurt law-abiding citizens by "eliminating the only options for Californians to purchase numerous handguns that are commonly owned throughout the rest of the country."

The bill passed the assembly 48-25, and goes to the state senate. (Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Cynthia Osterman)

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Occupy Amazon: Elizabeth Warren, Thomas Piketty, Michael Lewis Books Surging Online

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 7:41pm

If Amazon's top-sellers list is any indication, Americans are fed up with rising income inequality.

As of Thursday evening, Sen. Elizabeth Warren's new memoir, A Fighting Chance, is the number two best-selling book on Amazon, trailing only Thomas Piketty's Capital In The Twenty-First Century. Michael Lewis' Flash Boys, which exposes the world of high-frequency traders, is number five. Both Capital and A Fighting Chance are also among Barnes & Noble's top five sellers. Rounding out Amazon's top five are John Green's YA hit The Fault In Our Stars and an illustrated Little Golden Book adaptation of Disney's "Frozen." Both books are more representative of typical Amazon best-sellers, which tend to include popular fiction and self-help titles.

While the three works come at the issue from different vantage points, they all arrive at essentially the same conclusion: the game is rigged against the middle class.

Warren's book, released Tuesday, traces the Massachusetts Democrat's journey from law professor to U.S. senator. The book details how the struggles Warren's middle class parents faced motivated her to work toward remedying income inequality -- most notably, in her role in the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“This book is about how Washington is rigged to work for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers and make sure that everything that they want gets done in Washington,” Warren told ABC News earlier this week. “The game is rigged to work for those who already have money and power. I wrote this book because the way I see it, working families, they're not looking for a handout. They're not looking for some special deal. They just want a level playing field. They just want a fighting chance."

Meanwhile, Piketty's manifesto has become an unlikely hit. The nearly 700-page tome is currently sold out on Amazon, as Harvard University Press scrambles to print an additional 80,000 copies. In the interim, the French economist has been on a dizzying U.S. tour, meeting with the likes of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the Council of Economic Advisers and the IMF, in addition to giving dozens of interviews to major media outlets.

Based on analysis of over 200 years' worth of economic data from 20 countries, Capital argues that unfettered capitalism will inevitably lead to extreme income inequality. If world leaders are unwilling to shrink the widening gap by, say, imposing a global wealth tax or other mechanisms, the rich will continue to grow richer, leaving the rest of society behind. As Piketty explained on HuffPost Live last week, this could cause capitalistic societies to revert back to the economic conditions of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Flash Boys, Lewis' New York Times bestseller, sheds light on the predatory practices of high-frequency traders. According to Lewis, these traders are essentially able to front-run typical investors by using lightning-fast network connections to quickly buy stocks and sell them back. Lewis' work was featured in a popular "60 Minutes" segment last month.

"It's bigger than a scam," Lewis said during the segment. "It's the stock market."

Watch HuffPost's interview with Piketty below:

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Federal Guardians

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 7:38pm

A Nevada rancher disputes Washington's jurisdiction over federally owned lands he uses, and thus, refuses to pay the legally required grazing fees. A number of prominent Republican politicians (Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval among them) tacitly support the rancher's rejection of public domain by treating him as a folk hero.

This is a far cry from the GOP of old, who along with Democrats in true bipartisan fashion approved congressional funding for federal acquisition of major tracts of public land. It was well understood then, one might add, that most of this land--purchased either in part or entirely for conservation purposes--was to be managed by agencies of the federal government.

What is behind modern day Republicans' rebellion against federal control of public land, a deep seated resentment that led to championing the scofflaw Nevada rancher, Cliven Bundy? It is their ideologically colored conviction that states, local governments, and most of all, the private sector can manage public conservation lands more effectively than the federal government. Indeed, in the GOP states' rights, limited government world view, the feds have no business controlling the fate of public lands in the first place.

Regarding the Republican charge of federal managerial inadequacy, empirical evidence dictates otherwise. It is no coincidence that for many Americans, the outdoor vacation of a lifetime occurs in national parks, wildlife refuges, and seashores. What private resort or state maintained open space can match the experience of a visit to such revered places as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, or Florida's Everglades?

Undaunted by custodial reality, many modern day Republicans contend that when public land is owned and administered by the federal government, everyone has a nominal stake and consequently no one feels personally responsible for the upkeep. Conversely, state, local, and private interests by sheer virtue of proximity are bound to be more fastidious and effective in managing land at their doorstep.

It is an argument that doesn't fly. Most Americans harbor strong proprietary feelings towards the nation's national parks and other federal lands, even if the places are thousands of miles away and unlikely to ever be visited. Moreover, the federal civil servants charged with overseeing the public lands may not have personal property rights, but they have a well-deserved reputation of answering a higher calling. It is expressed in the widely recognized pride, conscientiousness, and effectiveness they display in their jobs.

While some states and private entities perform well in preserving public undeveloped land, they tend to be more susceptible to pressure from local extractive industries to allow excessive exploitation of the area's natural resources. Proximity is a factor here. State and local government officials' careers can be more dependent than the feds' on local industry's fiscal support and meeting its political demands. As for private sector public land managers, their first priority is showing a profit. That would relegate conservation to a secondary concern where it is supposed to be of equal if not greater importance in relation to commercial activity.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Maui, a Paradise of Racial Tolerance?

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 7:21pm

My husband and I were always proud to have an "international marriage," as it was called in Japan. I was an American expat living in Tokyo and my husband was Japanese. Our marriage spanned two nations and two cultures, and for us it seemed ideal. Not long after we were married, we saw a TV documentary in which mixed-race children around the globe were interviewed about their experiences. In each case, the children complained bitterly about the lack of a single identity, about not knowing where they belonged, and about the racism they experienced from the races of both parents. There was only one exception, the young man who lived in Hawaii. Being from two cultures and two races was, for him, the best thing in the world. He talked happily of having the best of both cultures, of speaking two languages, of celebrating all the festivals, of having the most fun and best of all, of eating a variety of delicious food. I turned to my husband and said, "If we have children, we're moving to Hawaii." He agreed.

When my daughter was born, we talked of moving often but it didn't happen until we began the search for an elementary school. We spoke with many parents and children and while most were content with schools in Japan, there were several students who experienced serious bullying because of their mixed race heritage. Some were taken out of school to be home-schooled. Some were put into expensive, private international schools but the emotional scaring remained.

A few months later we moved to Maui. We told my daughter how lucky she was to have two cultures and two passports and how wonderful it was to be able to live on Maui and visit Japan. She embraced it all and like most of her new friends, she was proud to be Hapa, the Hawaiian word for half. As a family, we appreciated that all children in Hawaii are cherished and being Hapa was the most normal thing of all.

Most people think of Maui as a paradise because of its beautiful beaches and terrific weather. But for us, Maui was an island of wonderfully kind people living in a paradise of zero racism. Once we settled in, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. Not only was our diverse family accepted, we blended right in with everyone else.

Soon my daughter was inviting her new friends over to play in our condo pool. Her friends were from every possible combination of different backgrounds: Asian, Caucasian, Hawaiian, Tongan, African-American and Hispanic. Once in awhile my African-American neighbor would stop by and watch them play. "Your daughter and her friends are Martin Luther King's dream come to life," she once told me. And it was a beautiful sight to see, not just because of the children's diversity, but because they had no idea that race mattered to anyone. They didn't know what racism was, and didn't learn about it until they were much older and studied it in school. Even then, it was a distant, historical subject, an oddity that happened only on the mainland. In short, they just couldn't believe that people acted that way toward each other. Their worst fears were that something like that might happen to one of their friends, if they visited the mainland.

Unfortunately life in the islands has not always been a paradise of tolerance. In 1893, after years of turmoil instigated by small groups of mostly American businessmen, missionaries and sugar plantation owners, Hawaii's monarch, Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown. This coup took place with the help of the U. S. military. The reason they gave was that it was necessary to protect American interests and the American citizens who lived in Hawaii. An act of aggression on this scale would cause an international outcry today, but in 1893 it went unchecked. The problems for Hawaii didn't end there. There was racism on the part of the white overseers and bit by bit, the Hawaiians lost their ancestral lands.

A local man once told me that his family originally owned several miles of beach front property. But their land was taken away until they owned enough land for just one house and they struggled to pay their property tax. "This land was ours for hundreds of years before the US government took over. Why do we have to pay property taxes now? I'll pay income tax, sales tax, any kind of tax they want, but I don't think Hawaiians should pay property tax." In a culture where the aina, the land is everything, he spoke without any anger or racism but only from a place of deep sadness.

When Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898, Princess Kaiulani, the heir to the Hawaiian throne, said that when she saw the Hawaiian flag being taken down, "it was bitterer than death." Hawaii finally became a state in 1959 but culturally, it is and will always be its own proud Hawaii.

In light of its history, why then is Hawaii this present-day oasis of racial equality? I give credit to the Hawaiian people who believe in 'doing what is Pono,' which translates to 'doing what is right.' In short, they chose the higher road and I have the greatest respect for the people of Hawaii. If Maui is a paradise, it is first and foremost because of its people, and I will always be eternally grateful for what Maui gave to my daughter, a much cherished childhood of racial acceptance, a childhood in paradise.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Reject = Protect

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 7:20pm

On the day that President Obama finally rejects the Keystone XL pipeline, the connection between tar sands development and climate disruption should be only one of the reasons (although it's certainly reason enough). For someone like Obama, whose first real job was as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, the effect of the pipeline and its toxic payload on the people and communities in its path will surely also be a factor.


This week, the president will hear the voices of those people loud and clear, thanks to the Reject and Protect encampment and march on the National Mall. Reject and Protect is being led by  the "Cowboy Indian Alliance" -- a group of ranchers, farmers, and tribal communities from along the pipeline's route. I visited them this week and was both impressed by their determination and moved by how they placed this fight in the greater context of environmental injustice.


It's hard not to be inspired by people like Texas rancher Julia Trigg Crawford, who was there to lend support even though she has already lost her own battle to stop TransCanada from routing part of Keystone XL through her property: "Basically they came in and said a foreign corporation building a for-profit pipeline had more of a right to my land than I did."  


That was echoed by Ihanktonwan Oyate spiritual leader and elder Faith Spotted Eagle, who said, "We stand here as Mother Bears to defend our land, our farms, our ranches, our treaty territory. They are violating our treaty land and our treaty water."


The more time goes by, the more evidence we're seeing of just how toxic tar sands oil really is -- and what its effects would be on those unfortunate enough to live near a spill or a refinery. Of course, if a major spill were to happen on the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, the disaster would be both unparalleled and irreversible for millions of Americans.


Already, the Obama administration has heard from more than 2,000,000 people who believe the pipeline would not be in our national interest -- an unprecedented number. Just as important, though, are the individual voices being heard this week -- the voices of Americans who see the health and welfare of their communities under attack. Many of these communities already bear an unfair share of the consequences from fossil fuel pollution. Can we really ask them to suffer even more for the sake of oil industry profits?


There's still time to join the Reject and Protect march in D.C. this Saturday. You can sign up here. Can't make it to the capital? Then join the thousands of people from the around the country who will be simultaneously posting messages of solidarity.


 

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Gabby Giffords Writes Moving Tribute To Malala For Time Magazine Influencers List

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 7:06pm

Malala Yousafzai and Gabrielle Giffords both know bravery and perseverance.

So it's only fitting that the former congresswoman was chosen to profile the Pakistani teen activist, named one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" Wednesday.

Giffords wrote for Time that she, like many people, draws inspiration and strength from Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012.

"Malala is a testament that women everywhere will not be intimidated into silence."

Giffords, who was shot in the head in Tuscon, Ariz. in 2011, also wrote that Yousafzai's courage is rare, comparing her to military members or global leaders:

"I have seen courage in many places…but Malala’s courage is uncommon," Giffords wrote.

Yousafzai advocates for young people worldwide through the Malala Fund, an organization that partners with local nonprofits to educate youth. She highlights the fact that is much at stake in providing education. UNESCO reports, for example, that a child born to a mother who can read is 50 percent more likely to live past age 5.

The young education advocate spoke at the UN this past July and reminded viewers that everyone's voice matters in the fight for education:

"One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world," said Yousafzai, who told CNN that she wants to become prime minister of Pakistan one day.

The teen activist, who published her first book "I Am Malala" in October, was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year year.

The Time 100 issue goes on sale Friday, April 25.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

John Kerry Warns Russia: Failure To Cooperate Would Be 'Grave' And 'Expensive Mistake'

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 6:47pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry is accusing Russia of failing to live up to commitments it made to ease the crisis in Ukraine.


In unusually blunt language, Kerry said Thursday that unless Moscow takes immediate steps to de-escalate the situation, Washington will have no choice but to impose additional sanctions. He said It would be a "grave" and "expensive mistake." His comments come amid an increasingly bitter war of words over who is to blame for the crisis in Ukraine that is becoming steadily more violent.


The U.S. says Russia is fomenting unrest and separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine following its annexation of the strategic Crimean Peninsula. Russia accuses the U.S. of encouraging a pro-Western government in Kiev to adopt anti-Russian policies.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Johnson-Crapo Housing Reform Guided by Weapons of Mass Deception About Affordable Housing Goals

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 6:35pm

"The new Senate proposal to reform the housing finance system...lacks provisions to ensure that the housing finance system is fair and nondiscriminatory." -Joint statement of the National Urban League and other major civil rights and housing advocacy groups

A new housing reform proposal slated for a Senate Banking Committee vote next week could accelerate the already significant post-recession decline in homeownership among communities of color and all working and middle-class communities. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D), chairman of the banking committee, and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking member, would wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and replace them with a new agency, the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation (FMIC). This new agency would end the affordable housing goals of Freddie and Fannie, which helped boost the percentage of African American homeownership to a pre-recession all-time high of 50 percent. The current African American homeownership rate is 43 percent, and African Americans are the only group that continues to experience a homeownership decline in the recovery, down 2.5 percent since 2000.

The Johnson-Crapo bill is driven by weapons of mass deception that perpetuate the myths that affordable housing goals and the Community Reinvestment Act created the housing crisis when nothing could be further from the truth. The affordable housing goals of Fannie and Freddie did not cause the crisis. In fact, according to the Fiscal Crisis Inquiry Commission, the body that was created to investigate the causes of the financial crisis, the affordable housing goals only "marginally contributed" to the crisis. But they made a tremendous impact on helping responsible borrowers purchase homes. As a result, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, during the last 10 years, more than 60 million hard-working families have benefited from the affordable housing goals.

The foreclosure crisis was not caused by irresponsible borrowers. It was caused by irresponsible financial products and a subprime lending market that were faulty and predatory in design, a result of reckless greed and doomed to fail from the start. By repealing the affordable housing goals that have been in place since the early 1990s -- and through a reduced government guarantee -- we are extremely concerned that the Johnson-Crapo bill will lead to cost increases that make homeownership unaffordable for the millions of working and middle-class Americans who have already borne the brunt of the impact of the foreclosure crisis, wiping out the majority of family wealth amassed during the last decade.

This bill would also exacerbate some of the widening economic disparities highlighted in the National Urban League's 2014 State of Black America® report. For example, the Black-White homeownership Equality Index is now only 60 percent, and blacks are three times as likely to be denied on a mortgage application. Our report also shows that blacks have a median wealth of $6,314 vs. whites at $110,500 -- a wealth equality index of a dismal 6 percent. With the critical role that homeownership plays in wealth accumulation, any further impediments to minority and low-to-middle-income homeownership will only widen that gap.

That is why the National Urban League joined with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, National Council of La Raza, National Fair Housing Alliance, and Center for Responsible Lending to voice our serious concerns about this bill in its current form. As noted in our original statement, today's mortgage market excludes families of color almost entirely. According to the most recent Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data, there were 1.3 million conventional mortgage loans made in 2012; of those, Latinos received only 69,217 loans, African-Americans received 29,405 loans, and Asian American Pacific Islanders received 2,697 loans. There were 4.9 million refinance loans made in 2012, of which Latinos received 76,038, African-Americans received 75,785, and Asian American Pacific Islanders received 10,611. The Johnson-Crapo proposal does not adequately address this ongoing inequity nor does it provide an inclusive way forward for working and middle class communities to participate in the future housing market.

Housing finance reform is necessary. But we believe that it should be true reform -- and not retrogression. Its goal should be to create a secure housing finance system that is open and available to all creditworthy borrowers and that provides affordable mortgages to families with lesser incomes and wealth. Instead of expanding homeownership opportunities, the Johnson-Crapo proposal tells working and middle-class families that homeownership will be reserved for the fortunate few. It says that these families do not deserve low-cost credit; that owning a home is not important to family wealth; and that communities no longer need a stable tax base to fund schools, police, fire and libraries. That is simply wrong, and we can do better. The National Urban League strongly urges the Senate Banking Committee to change course on this bill now, ensure the inclusion of affordable housing goals, and pass legislation that will help to ensure access to affordable mortgage credit for all creditworthy borrowers, while at the same time protecting taxpayers from bearing the cost of a housing downturn.

As it stands, working families -- and the essence of the American Dream -- cannot afford Johnson-Crapo.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Will Medical Innovation Be an Afterthought This Election Season?

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 6:27pm

Like it or not, we're in the midst of another election season. As candidates embark on endless rounds of campaign activities to win the hearts and minds of voters, it's critical that they not neglect, by choice or lack of awareness, a key issue that has tremendous implications for the health and prosperity of Americans: medical research and innovation.

Our nation's research enterprise has endured years of flat federal funding and, more recently, sequestration, the destructive across-the-board federal spending cuts that began in 2013, as well as policies that slow rather than propel forward the pace of commercial innovation and drug development. Research projects are coming to a halt, patients are being denied access to clinical trials, research institutions across the country have reduced their workforce, young scientists are fleeing to other careers or other countries and local businesses that flourish in a research-rich environment are scaling back operations.

Ironically, given today's unprecedented scientific opportunity, elected officials have not provided the resources it takes to capitalize on monies previously invested, forcing innovators to delay or abandon studies that could lead to new therapies and cures for insidious health threats such as Alzheimer's, cancer and obesity. During this election season, as candidates answer questions and take positions intended to boost their chances at the polls, it is up to us who care about medical progress to ask candidates whether they perceive medical research as a top national priority.

Three quarters of Americans say it's important to know whether candidates are supportive of scientific and medical research, according to recent polling commissioned by Research!America, a nonprofit advocacy alliance. That's reason enough for candidates to make research a talking point on the campaign trail. Yet a majority of Americans say they're not aware of the positions of their representatives on this topic.

Do the candidates know the facts about federally supported research and development? Let's start with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funds non-commercial research at universities and other research institutions across the country, planting the seed for innovation in the private sector. The NIH funded about 700 fewer research projects in fiscal year 2013 because of sequestration. Over the last decade, NIH has lost 25 percent of its purchasing power and is sorely underpowered to take full advantage of the opportunity to conquer disease presented by the sequencing of the human genome and sophisticated methods of interpreting medical data. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is facing unprecedented pressure to maintain and expand operations with inadequate resources as infectious disease outbreaks threaten the health and safety of Americans and superbug infections spread in hospitals nationwide. And the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, whose mission is to produce evidence to make health care safer, more affordable and more efficient, has become the perennial target of some policy makers in nonsensical efforts to zero out its budget.

Government investment in research is necessary. We cannot rely on the private sector to fill the void as elected officials cut agency budgets as part of an ill-advised attempt to reduce the deficit. Even if all science agencies were eliminated, we would not put a significant dent in the deficit. Failure to enact tax and entitlement reform is what is really bankrupting our nation; there is no sense in targeting lifesaving research and other domestic programs to cut costs.

Medical and health research works to protect the health of Americans and deliver new therapies to patients, children and adults who are diagnosed with common as well as rare diseases such as progeria or ALS. Research drives advances in prosthetics that are helping wounded warriors regain their mobility, and research develops countermeasures for bioterrorism and pandemics. Research has enabled remarkable progress against cancer, heart disease, and a host of other disabling and deadly conditions, but much more work lies ahead. Children who should survive cancer are dying of it. Adults who should be enjoying their retirement are losing the battle against Alzheimer's.

To put it bluntly, too many members of Congress either don't understand or don't care how important medical progress is to Americans. You deserve to know whether your candidate will champion research and innovation or neglect it. Visit askyourcandidates.org for more information.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

More Koch ads, more debunking

Daily Kos Michigan Feed - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 6:22pm

Undaunted by the fact that the millions they spent so far haven't moved the needle against Democrats at all, the Kochs are sinking a big chunk more into their anti-Obamacare habit in New Hampshire, Louisiana, Colorado and Michigan. And they are also picking up a whole new bunch of Pinnochios from Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post while they're at it.

That ad up top is running in New Hampshire, and focuses on the fact that just one insurer, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, chose to participate and has limited providers. It did so in order to keep costs for itself—and for customers—as low as possible, which of course AFP isn't going to tell viewers. The real whopper in this one is the claim that premiums are up 90 percent in the entire state. Kesslers generously gives it two Pinnochios though the 90 percent claim "is worthy of Three or even Four Pinocchios." That claim, he notes, has been roundly debunked and "mocked" in local media.

This ad is from Colorado, but an essentially identical variation runs in Michigan, too. (The Colorado ad is the one they despicably used an Aurora tragedy picture in. They've since removed the image.) These two ads fall back on the Kochs' old habit of making "vague allegations of people losing doctors or 'thousands' of dollars in higher health-care premiums," claims that aren't substantiated. Kessler gives these two Pinnochios because they are full of unproven assertions about what the law "could" mean for people who have had old policies cancelled, and ignore the fact that the administration has allowed states to extend those cancelled policies for a few years and that most of the people AFP is counting as having received cancellation letters also were offered a renewal option.

That's the last ad, from Lousiana, and is the only one in quite a while to feature an actual "victim," Christopher Schiff, a sympathetic Iraq veteran. The Kochs have mostly stopped using real people in their ads because all those ads were so easily and roundly debunked (most notably the Julie Boonstra fiasco). Schiff claims that his insurance costs are "going way up," but doesn't provide the details of what "way up" means. Kessler is holding off on a verdict with this one, because the information AFP and Schiff have been providing on how much he's paying in premiums now versus with his old plan is conflicting. Of course, neither has provided information about what his old plan offered in terms of benefits or total out-of-pocket costs. That's where the Kochs have always tripped up in their real-people stories before, so stay tuned to this one.

What none of the Kochs' ads feature, of course, is what the various Republicans they're shilling for would do for all the people they want to take insurance away from.

Categories: Local and Michigan Blogs

Arkansas Judge Strikes Down State's Voter ID Law

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 6:20pm

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge struck down the state's new voter ID law on Thursday, saying it violates the state constitution by adding a requirement that voters must meet before casting a ballot.


Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox voided the measure in a lawsuit over the way absentee ballots are handled under the law. A separate lawsuit had been filed last week directly challenging the law, which requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot.


The law "is declared void and unenforceable," Fox wrote in the ruling.


The Republican-led Legislature approved the law last year, overriding a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe with a simple majority vote in the House and Senate. Backers of the measure said it was aimed at reducing voter fraud, while opponents said it would disenfranchise voters.


A spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, says the state Board of Election Commissioners has asked McDaniel's office to appeal Thursday's ruling, and it will do so.


"We just received the Court's decision and are in the process of reviewing it. The State Board of Election Commissioners has already contacted us requesting an appeal and we will work as quickly as possible on the board's behalf to appeal this decision," Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for McDaniel's office, said in an email.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which had filed the separate lawsuit, hailed the ruling.


"The important thing is it indicates voters will be able to vote," Holly Dickson, the group's legal director. "It matters not which suit as long as voters will be able to vote."


The law, which took effect Jan. 1, was used in some local elections earlier this year, but it will be used statewide for the first time during early voting beginning May 5 and during primary elections on May 20.


Fox issued the ruling in a case that had focused on absentee ballots. The Pulaski County Election Commission sued the state Board of Election Commissioners for adopting a rule that gives absentee voters additional time to show proof of ID. The rule allows voters who did not submit required identification with their absentee ballot to turn in the documents for their vote to be counted by noon Monday following an election. It mirrors an identical "cure period" the law gives to voters who fail to show identification at the polls.


McDaniel issued a legal opinion in February in which he said absentee voters could not be given additional time to cast ballots, because that wasn't specified in the law. His opinion conflicted with advice that the Republican secretary of state's office had given to local election officials.


"The Pulaski County action forced the Court to reach the legal issues involved and strike down the voter ID law," said Chris Burks, a member of the Pulaski County Election Commission.


The Republican sponsor of the voter ID law said he was "shocked" at Fox's ruling, saying he didn't believe the judge gave the state the chance to defend the new measure.


"I thought today was about the rulemaking on the absentee ballots. It seems like he jumped ahead of himself," said Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest.


Thirty-one states have laws in effect requiring voters to show some form of identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Seven states have strict photo ID requirements similar to Arkansas. Voter ID laws have been put on hold in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania because of court challenges.


Under previous law, election workers were required to ask for photo ID but voters don't have to show it to cast a ballot. Under the new law, voters who don't show photo identification can cast provisional ballots. Those ballots would be counted only if voters provide ID to county election officials before noon on the Monday after an election, sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed.


State Democrats indicated they planned to use the voter ID law as an issue in this year's elections, sending out a fundraising email within an hour of Fox's ruling.


"Don't let an appeal to this ruling turn back the clock for Arkansas voters," Candace Martin, the state party's executive director, wrote in the email.


___


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Texas Family Wins $3 Million Judgement Against Fracking Company Over Contamination

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 6:19pm

A Texas jury has awarded $2.925 million to a family that filed suit after their air and drinking water were contaminated by an oil and gas company, a win attorneys are calling "the first fracking verdict in U.S. history," according to a post on DeSmogBlog.

Plaintiffs Bob and Lisa Parr sued Aruba Petroleum Inc. in 2011 alleging that drilling and fracking at the company's 22 sites, located within a few miles of their home, were making them sick.

"My daughter was experiencing nose bleeds, rashes and there were some mornings she would wake up covered in blood ... screaming and crying," Lisa Parr said during a 2011 press conference.

Despite Aruba Petroleum's plans to appeal the verdict, the Parr's attorneys said the family has been "vindicated."

“I’m really proud of the family that went through what they went through and said, ‘I’m not going to take it anymore,'" attorney David Matthews wrote in a blog post on his firm's site. "It takes guts to say, ‘I’m going to stand here and protect my family from an invasion of our right to enjoy our property.’ It’s not easy to go through a lawsuit and have your personal life uncovered and exposed to the extent this family went through.”

The judgement includes $275,000 for the Parr's loss in property value and $2 million for pain and suffering, as well as $250,000 for future physical pain and suffering and $400,000 for past mental anguish.

You can read their petition to the court, filed in March 2011, on the DeSmogBlog site.

(h/t Grist)

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Break In At National Civil Rights Museum Less Than One Month After Reopening

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 6:17pm

Almost every day is a busy day at the National Civil Rights Museum, but things got a bit hectic at the historic site on Wednesday morning.

Police reportedly found smashed windows at the Lorraine Motel after security officers contacted them reporting a break in at 1 a.m. The windows to rooms 307 and 308 were shattered, just a few doors down from the infamous room 306 when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his final hours before his assassination.

Officers reportedly found Dexter Anderson asleep on the bed inside room 308. The 33-year-old broke into a portion of the museum's King's Last Hour exhibit, a location rich with historical significance.

The museum recently reopened on April 5 after a $28 million, 16-month renovation. In addition to the King exhibit, it also features powerful displays of men shackled on a slave ship and a replication of the room where the U.S. Supreme Court heard the landmark 1954 case Brown v. the Board of Education.

"You know, it's unfortunate that it happened at a place like this," said the museum's director of administration Tracy Lauritzen Wright.

Fortunately, the only damage was the broken glass, which crews were able to replace.

Anderson has been charged with vandalism and criminal trespassing and is being held on a $3,000 bond. He is due in court on Thursday, May 1.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Navigating the Asia Pivot

Huffington Post News - Thu, 04/24/2014 - 6:16pm

President Obama is in Asia this week to reassure our Asian allies about the U.S. "pivot to Asia." Former National Security Advisor Tim Donilon described the "pivot to Asia" as "a shift away from the war efforts in the Middle East and South Asia that have dominated U.S. national security policy and resources for the past decade and a shift toward the region that presents the most significant opportunity for the United States." As a significant shift in defense strategy, the Asia pivot is a head-scratcher. As an economic strategy, however, the Asia pivot is compelling.

The central problem with pivot to Asia strategy is that it is framed as a national security strategy. There is no doubt that there are security challenges throughout Asia that require U.S. force projection. China has announced a 12.2 percent increase in its defense budget to $132 billion in 2014. While China's defense budget is one-third of the U.S., it is significant enough to project power, and that is what it is doing.

Beijing recently claimed an air defense zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, including disputed remote islands controlled by Japan. China has also rattled sabers with the Philippines and Malaysia over disputed islands in the South China Sea, and issued new fishing regulations requiring Chinese approval to fish in the South China Sea.

Beyond China, North Korea continues to pose a nuclear threat to our Asian allies, and U.S. bases in the area.

Despite these threats, shifting our national security focus from the "war on terror" to Asia seems profoundly tone deaf to the continuing and emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said:

When the president framed rebalance, he discussed how we could now safely turn our attention to Asia because the war in Afghanistan was receding and al-Qaida was on the path to defeat. I'm concerned those conditions haven't panned out.

Indeed, Iraq and Afghanistan remain highly unstable, and that's not the only problem. The Syrian civil war, which has produced 150,000 deaths and 2 million refugees, still has a significant potential to destabilize the entire region. If negotiations with Iran to contain its nuclear arms program fail, hardliners in the country could provoke confrontation with Israel, which has vowed to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. The Pakistan Taliban threatens to throw that nuclear nation into disarray. Failure to secure the elusive peace agreement between Israel and Palestine continues to sow discord.

The Kremlin's annexation of Crimea, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, al-Shabab in Somalia, and political instability in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, all pose significant challenges to our security and that of our allies.

The focus on Asia is, however, smart economically and perhaps points the way toward a more strategic foreign policy. The Asia-Pacific consumes almost 60 percent of U.S. exports and produces more than half the world's economic output. Concluding a multi-national trade agreement with twelve nations party to the Trans Pacific Partnership could yield $78 billion in annual income for America. This is perhaps what Donilon pointedly meant as "the most significant opportunity" for the United States.

In an era of fiscal restraint, U.S. policy makers should implement a foreign policy guided by opportunity rather than threat, and align its resources accordingly. The U.S. should pivot to South America and Africa as well, where opportunity is not just about trade, but investments in infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing that will create future markets, and build prosperity and stability in partner nations. Economic opportunity is one of the best antidotes to political instability, and is much cheaper than boots on ground and costly weapons systems.

An opportunity based foreign policy would not neglect state-based or terrorism threats to the United States, but it could force the United States to better assess truly strategic threats and focus limited resources to maximize our security. Defense hawks are concerned about defense budget reductions, but assessing our foreign policy more holistically could produce significant gains for our security.

To assist in developing an opportunity-based foreign policy, the foreign affairs committees in the House and Senate must come up with and pass a foreign affairs bill. Alternatively, Congress could develop a security budget across agencies and committees that advances strategic opportunities through foreign aid, diplomacy, intelligence, law enforcement and defense. Congress could develop a BRAC-like committee to make defense budget cuts to inoculate against earmarks and special interests. President Obama this week should encourage nations to shoulder more of their own security challenges, and share more in global development, not as a sign of U.S. disengagement, but of global partnership. The true pivot is not in Asia, but back home, and whether the administration and Congress can more crisply define U.S. strategic interests and the whole-of-government approach to secure them.

Categories: Political News and Opinion